It landed just in time to greet the president upon his return from his first international trip and shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to “put an end to” the rampant leaks coming from within the government.
An administration plagued with leaks is now trying to determine whether recent damaging claims may have been fanned from within the West Wing.
The latest claim stems from a supposed meeting that President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn had on Dec. 1 or 2 with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
So what’s the problem?
According to The Washington Post, U.S. officials who reviewed intercepts between Kislyak and Moscow saw that Kushner requested “a secret [communications] channel with Moscow rather than relying on traditional government systems.”
This alleged request by Kushner, the White House aide who conceived of and planned Mr. Trump’s just-concluded, multi-country trip, “adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts.”
When Gary Cohn was asked about the recent Kushner-Russia story Saturday during their appearance at the G-7 summit in Italy, he replied, “We’re not going to comment on Jared.”
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster essentially gave the same response, adding, “We have back-channeled communications with a number of countries.”
According to Axios, the man whose job security has been a matter of constant speculation: Steve Bannon.
Nine sources in the West Wing and within Trump’s close orbit said the Russia situation is Bannon’s shot at redemption.
He’s being described as a “wartime consigliere” relishing a fight against the “deep state,” media, Democrats, and investigators.
His remarks were the first time he had weighed in since reports surfaced that his top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues.
“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names….it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”
Mr. Trump’s remarks were part of a broader pushback against the reports about Mr. Kushner from other members of his administration and some Republican members of Congress.
Meanwhile, the president is discussing major changes in the White House, including having lawyers vet his tweets and shaking up his top staff, as he grapples with the fallout from probes into his campaign’s dealings with Russia, according to several senior administration officials and outside advisers.
Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election.
The president’s demand for scrutiny into the leaks, while calling them “fake news,” has been a staple of what have been conflicting responses by the White House to a damaging series of news reports about his campaign’s ties to Russia. The Trump administration has denied any collusion with Russia.
In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said, “I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared” in reference to reports that Mr. Kushner discussed setting up secret communications with Russia.
Mr. Kelly was also asked about British Prime Minister Theresa May’s complaints that the U.S. was the source of intelligence leaks after the suicide bombing in Manchester that left 22 people dead and injured dozens more.
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“It’s borderline, if not over the line of treason” to leak highly classified information from foreign intelligence, Mr. Kelly said. “I think it’s darn close to treason.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC News regarding the allegations over Mr. Kushner: “I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on, and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community—very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Sunday that he had heard from a Kushner “associate” in the wake of the disclosures who told him, “Look, please know that he’s glad to answer any and all questions” and that “there’s nothing there that he’s wishing to hide.”
Mr. Corker defended Mr. Kushner as having been “transparent” and said it would be wrong to “prejudge” his dealings in the Trump orbit. “Let’s see what, if anything, occurred,” Mr. Corker said.
Some Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, are calling for a review of Mr. Kushner’s security clearance. “You have to ask, who are they hiding the conversations from?” he said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday.
But both Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) expressed skepticism about the Kushner disclosure.
A Washington Post article last week said that Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak reported to Moscow that Mr. Kushner wanted to make use of Russian diplomatic facilities to open back-channel communications.
Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer for Mr. Kushner, previously said in a statement about Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russians
Inside the West Wing, discovering and prosecuting those responsible for the constant drumbeat of leaks has become a top priority. While most of the focus has been on current U.S. intelligence personnel and former Obama administration officials, there is now increasing concern that some of the recent leaks involving Kushner could be coming directly from the West Wing.
A government source familiar with the Trump White House’s inner circle put it this way: “It is sad there are so many insecure people in the West Wing, who don’t care about serving their country or pushing the president’s agenda.” When pressed about the identity of this “insecure person,” the source demurred. “Instead, they are solely focused on themselves and planting false stories, to put targets on other people’s backs, to shift attention from their own records.”
“They are solely focused on themselves and planting false stories, to put targets on other people’s backs, to shift attention from their own records.”
Rumors of a major White House staff shake-up have been swirling in Washington almost since the first week after the inauguration. Multiple reports from both establishment and conservative media outlets have detailed Trump’s at times intense dissatisfaction with his communications staff.
Others have focused on the antagonistic “camps” of staffers that have formed inside the West Wing: the “nationalists” (White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and speechwriter Stephen Miller) versus the “Democrats” (Kushner and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council). Priebus has attempted to straddle both factions, with reports mounting since February of his imminent departure.
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In April, the relationship between Bannon and Kushner was at a low point. “Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon Battle for the Soul of Trump,” blared a headline in The Atlantic.
Still, any major staff shake-up or even a high-level resignation is risky as special counsel Robert Mueller ramps up his Russia investigation, and Capitol Hill is anxious to talk to witnesses.
Through all the media hyperventilation and West Wing intrigue, one thing is abundantly clear: President Trump has no patience for leaking. “The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” he said in the wake of the Manchester bombing — and Britain is outraged that details of the investigation had leaked to press outlets by American officials. He vowed to prosecute the leaks “to the fullest extent of the law.”