Top presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s legal team pushed back Friday night against a report that the White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law had at least three undisclosed contacts with a Russian ambassador during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he had “no recollection” of the alleged exchanges.
"Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described,” Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick told POLITICO in a statement, responding to a Reuters report about Kushner’s contacts with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
“We have asked (Reuters) for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information," Gorelick added.
But Kushner’s legal team was silent about other reports that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret line of communications with the Kremlin. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the reports.
According to Reuters, Kushner held at least two phone calls between April and November of last year with Kislyak, who’s represented Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington since 2008.
In a separate report, the Washington Post reported Kushner sought to establish secret communications with the Kremlin during a transition meeting with Kislyak. Per the Post, Kislyak said he talked to Kushner about installing secure lines between the Trump transition and Russian officials at foreign facilities to avoid conversations being monitored.
The New York Times reported that the purpose of the channel was to allow then-national security adviser Michael Flynn to communicate directly with Moscow about Syria and other security issues. The lines were never set up, the Times reported. Flynn, who is under investigation, was dismissed in February amid reports that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his contacts with Kislyak.
An array of former intelligence and national security officials reacted with astonishment to the report, stressing the seriousness of Kushner’s reported actions.
"Hard to fully convey the gravity of this,” said Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former lawyer for the National Security Agency, of the Washington Post report. “Unthinkable Kushner could stay in the White House,” she added.
"GOOD GRIEF. This is serious," Bob Deitz, an NSA and Central Intelligence Agency veteran who worked in both Clinton and Bush administrations, told Business Insider of the attempt to establish secretive Russian communications. "This is a big problem for the President."
The Democratic National Committee called on President Donald Trump to "immediately fire" Kushner.
"Trump has no choice but to immediately fire Kushner, whose failure to report this episode on his security clearance is reason enough for a criminal investigation," the DNC said in a statement.
The committee also questioned to what extent Trump was aware of Kushner’s attempts to establish direct channels with Russia.
"The next question is whether the president authorized this, because no one stands between Trump and Kushner in the chain of command," they said.
Hennessey, echoing the DNC, also questioned to what degree the president may have been aware of Kushner’s reported actions.
“The most significant question seems to be whether Trump was aware of and/or directed Jared and Flynn’s contacts w/ Kisylak,” she said.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.