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Trump Takes Aim at White House Leaks - Update

28 May 2017 4:37 pm
By Beth Reinhard and Peter Nicholas 

Back on American soil from his first foreign trip, President Trump on Sunday released a flurry of Twitter posts dismissing White House leaks about his campaign's relationship with Russia as "fake news," though he has called for an investigation into the leaks.

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, who just returned from his first foreign trip, 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 push back 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 has 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.

"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.

But both Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), meantime, 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: "Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry."

Asked by Fox News if Mr. Kushner should lose his security clearance, Mr. Durbin said, "Of course not. This a rumor at this point." He added that he was confident that the newly appointed special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, would get to the bottom of what happened.

Mr. Graham, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," said, "I don't trust this story as far as I can throw it."

"I think it makes no sense the Russian ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we're monitoring," Mr. Graham said. "The whole story line is suspicious."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Mr. Trump's most outspoken surrogates outside of the White House, said the president's trip to the Middle East and Europe and his domestic agenda should take center stage.

"They were disciplined. They were strategic," Mr. Gingrich said of the trip on Fox News. "I hope they'll come home focused on jobs, health, infrastructure...and shove to one side of all of this garbage."

Write to Beth Reinhard at beth.reinhard@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 28, 2017 12:37 ET (16:37 GMT)

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