“If you are in a position of public trust, and you talk to, meet, or collude with a foreign power” while trying to subvert normal state channels, “you are, in the eyes of the FBI and CIA, a traitor,” said Glenn Carle, a former top counterterrorism official at the CIA for more than two decades.
— Business Insider, This is off the map’: Former intelligence officials say the reported Kushner-Russia plan is unlike anything they’ve ever seen, 26 May 2016
The specific statute on which Mr. Carle relies to proclaim Jared Kushner a traitor to the United States only exists in his dark imagination. And that quote is not even the most biased or ridiculous one in the article at Business Insider, a publication so mired in the anti-Trump hysteria that their big article last week was Yale history Professor: Here’s why it is useful to compare Trump’s actions to Hitler’s.
The “Oh My God Trump Is A Fascist Who Needs To Be Impeached” du jour that Mr. Carle is referencing is that Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, approached “Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December at Trump Tower, where he floated the possibility of setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia — and having those talks take place in Russian diplomatic facilities in the US.” This is commonly called a “back channel” of communications — i.e., a method of communicating that takes place outside diplomatic channels and which is not subject to normal monitoring and documentation.
What Kushner proposed was unusual only in that Kushner wanted to use Russian secure comms in a move to explicitly thwart monitoring — and interference or leaking — by our intelligence collection agencies. Usually, this is not an issue with back-channel communications, either because such communications are inherently not subject to monitoring or because such monitoring would not result in a leak from inside government. Obviously that last is problematic, as the intelligence apparatus of the United States is leaking like the Titanic after hitting an iceberg in an effort to undermine the Trump administration.
The progs are throwing feces at the wall in the hopes that something sticks on this one. Kushner’s act does not neatly fit into the progressive meme of Russian meddling in the election, since Kushner allegedly committed this act a month after the 2016 general election. Nor does it fit the meme of obstruction of justice, as that involves Michael Flynn, not Jared Kushner. So the progs are left portraying this lawful act as something incredibly heinous, an unprecedented act of obvious treason — and they occasionally yell out the words “obstruction” and “meddling” in the middle of their screed like someone with Tourettes.
This reaction from the progressive media is, like everything else dealing with Trump, coming straight out of the fever swamps. Reads one examplar: “‘Game-Changer’: MSNBC Panelists Explain Magnitude of ‘Devastating’ Kushner Revelations.” What follows is the garbled mewling of several “democrats with by-lines” plumbing the depths of the thesaurus for ominous sounding adjectives. More (superficially) authoritatively, Business Insider found several former government employees who beat their chests and gnashed their teeth at Kushner’s act, as if establishing “back channel” communications with foreign countries is in any way novel or in any way itself a criminal act (irrespective of the insane quote at the top of this post.)
The reality is that prior administrations have regularly established and used “back channel” communications with foreign governments. The Obama administration maintained “back channel communications” with the government of Iran from almost the day of Obama’s first inauguration — something which did not become public knowledge until Obama sprang the “Iran Deal” upon the world. Then who can forget Obama’s personal back channel communications to Putin going through then Russian President Medvedev. That would have been in 2012 when Obama was caught on a hot mic telling Medvedev “after my election I have more flexibility” to deal with issues like missile defense, to which Medvedev responded “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin.]”
Yet another example is President John F. Kennedy, who maintained his own back channel of communications with the Soviet Union. The reality is that back channel communications are “as old as diplomacy itself.” I would be flatly amazed to find that any single administration over the past century did not maintain and use back channels of communication with various countries, whether to communicate with a nominal enemy or to discuss sensitive information that the parties would prefer not be stifled with the threat of becoming public knowledge if going through normal channels.
Nothing has been leaked to suggest Kushner’s purpose of setting up these back-channel communications was to accomplish any illegal act. That said, here were some of the over-the-top criticisms offered at Business Insider:
Scott Olson, a recently retired FBI agent who ran counterintelligence operations and spent more than 20 years at the bureau, agreed that it is not unusual for low-level staffers to work between governments and bypass bureaucracy to exchange views and build consensus in advance of higher-level negotiations.
But what Kushner appears to have done is “substantially different, in two ways,” he said.
“First, he is not seeking a back-channel for a low-level staff exchange,” Olson said. “He wants high-level direct-contact communication. This is extremely dangerous because it results in verbal (and therefore undocumented and unwitnessed) agreements, which are binding on governments. Free governments do not work this way. They can’t. If they do, they are no longer free.”
Certainly the history of “back channel” communications I’ve linked to above shows that such “back channels” are not in any way limited to low level bureaucrats. Further, while I know nothing about Mr. Olson or his political leanings, I do know that he would fail a fifth grade civics test. That Business Insider ran with this quote is prima facie evidence that the Mr. Olson as well as the article’s author and editor are biased and / or idiots. The only foreign agreement that can “bind” the U.S. is one ratified by Congress as set forth in the Constitution. Even Obama’s Iran Deal, worked out in secret back channel communications, is only extant today — in written form — because Trump has not yet decided to kill it, something well within his unilateral power to do so given that it was never ratified by Congress.
Continuing with Mr. Olson:
Second, he asked to use a foreign government’s communication facilities. This is way beyond a private server. This is doing US government diplomatic business over a foreign government’s communication system. It’s not an off-the-record conversation. It’s a conversation recorded by the opposing party. This shows a staggering lack of understanding of the US and its place in the world. Actually, it shows a staggering lack of common sense. When he negotiates a business deal does he use the other guy’s notes?
You’ve got to be kidding me. “Way beyond a private server?” I can’t believe Olson, and by extension Business Insider, are actually trying to make this out to be more serious than Hillary, who, for four years, placed thousands of our nation’s secrets, including information classified top secret code word protected, on a private server subject to hacking — and then wiping the server such that the full extent of her serial violations of our security laws and the concomitant damage to national security is still not yet known. We are still waiting for the DNI to conduct the damage assessment as to Hillary’s actions that they are required by law. As to Kushner wanting to use Russia’s secured system to hold talks, a system that theoretically was secure from U.S. intercept, does that actually seem irrational in the current circumstance?
To contrast, this from a news conference a few days ago with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, where the Kushner situation was raised:
McMaster, a decorated three-star Army general, was asked whether he would be concerned if an official on his National Security Council staff or elsewhere in the Trump administration sought a back-channel communications system with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin in Moscow.
“No,” McMaster said. “We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. So, generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner.”
He continued, “No, I would not be concerned about it.”
At any rate, let’s finish with CNN’s interview of Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA:
Do note the incredible irony of the CNN reporter calling it ‘indefensible’ — with Gen. Hayden piling on — that the Trump administration would not trust the Obama administration and the government bureaucracies. Are they living on the same planet with the rest of us?
The entire National Security apparatus at the very highest levels is leaking secret information seemingly every day in an effort to discredit President Trump, from transcripts of phone calls with the heads of other nations to Trump’s decision to share the gist of top secret information with the Russians regarding a shared threat from ISIS.
What takes the cake is that Kushner’s attempt at setting up this back channel is now public information because the NSA intercepted a communication between the Russian Ambassador and his superiors in Moscow, then someone in our government leaked this story. Is there any sentient being who, seeing the near daily leaks of classified information since December, 2016, would recommend to President Trump that he treat the government bureaucracy he inherited as anything other than as enemies of the state out to affect a slow motion coup?