Former CIA Director Michael Hayden called reports that White House senior advisor Jared Kushner sought back-channel communications with Russia “off the map,” adding that he knows “of no other experience like this in our history,” while former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said his “dashboard warning light was clearly on, and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community.”
The Washington Post reported last week that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak allegedly told his higher-ups that Kushner floated the proposal to use secure transmission systems at Russian diplomatic facilities to ostensibly evade U.S. monitoring during a conversation between the two and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn at Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or Dec. 2. The White House acknowledged the meeting in March.
Clapper told NBC on Sunday that he wouldn’t be “specifically affirming or confirming these conversations — since, even though they’re in the public realm, they’re still classified,” but the intelligence community was “very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians.”
“If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique,” the Obama-era CIA director said. “So we were concerned.”
Bush-era CIA chief Hayden told CNN on Monday that he’s “got no argument” with administration assertions that Kushner is a good person.
“I just think this was a bad idea, all right? What was he trying to accomplish by creating indebtedness to someone like the Russians, whom we knew at that time had intervened in our electoral process?” Hayden said. “I mean, the disregard for the routine practices, I don’t want to say contempt, but it might have been that for the administration they were replacing. How about the suspicion of the intelligence community on which they were going to have to rely? All of that have seemed to go into this decision to count on the Russians for this secret back channel.”
“And, oh, by the way, back channels are fine. I have been a back channel, all right? But you don’t do it when you’re not the government, and I don’t think you do it using your adversary’s communication system,” he added.
Hayden said it could have been naivete, “and chaos, maybe a little arrogance, maybe a little hubris, yes.”
“…Naivete, disrespect for established processes actually lead you into a position where you could be exploited by an adversary, and we might find that to be true.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told NBC on Sunday that Kushner’s reps reached out to the committee Saturday to stress “that he’s more than willing to answer any and all questions.”
“I look at what the reports have said about asking questions of him. It seems to me that he’s — based on just the reporting that you and others are making, he’s not a target,” Corker said. “And so I think I would just wait. It sounds like he’s more than glad to talk about all of these things. And instead of getting wrapped up into a lot of hyperbole, as these things can sometimes do, I think talking with him directly and getting him to answer any and all questions, as he said he would do, would probably be the prudent course of action.”