Homeland Security chief says back-channel talks with Russia would be ‘normal’

29 May

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly came to the defense of Jared Kushner, saying it would be “both normal… and acceptable” to seek back-channel communications with Russia, but that if those communications used Russian equipment, that “would be considered to be … somewhat compromised.”

Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser of President Trump, talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, prior to Trump’s taking office, about establishing a back channel for communications about Syria and other policy matters, sources told ABC News.

Kelly told “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday that with countries such as Russia that are not allies of the U.S., any means of communication “is a good thing.”

All communications gathered through a back channel would be “shared across the government, so it’s not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines” with any country, Kelly said.

Raddatz pressed Kelly about whether it would be OK for these back-channel communications to be conducted using Russian diplomatic facilities, as, according to the Washington Post, Kushner sought.

Kelly continued to insist that any line of communication “to a country like Russia is a good thing,” but he said “using their equipment, you know, that … would be considered to be, you know, kind of somewhat compromised.”

“You consider it in terms of its reliability,” Kelly said. “You just have to assume, like in this case, that it’s constructed in a way that they’re trying to get you to do certain things.”

Raddatz also asked Kelly about U.S. agencies’ apparent leaks to the press of crime-scene photos and other information about the British investigation of the Manchester attack. Trump on Thursday ordered an investigation of the leaks, saying they “pose a grave threat to our national security.”

Kelly said the leaks were “outrageous.”

He said that when he called his counterpart in the U.K. to offer condolences over the attack, “She rightfully then said, ‘Thanks for that. Now, the leak.'”

When Raddatz compared these leaks to Trump’s reportedly sharing Israeli intelligence with the Russians in an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, Kelly resisted making any comparison.

“It’s my understanding that the White House has pushed back and said [Trump] didn’t do that, so I’ll take him at his word,” Kelly said.