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Trump's back and ready for combat

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White House reels over reports Kushner sought backchannel with Russia

WASHINGTON Mr Donald Trump, just back from his first international trip as US president, geared up to combat concerns yesterday over his son-in-law's ties to Russia.

They include reports that Mr Jared Kushner sought a secret communications line with Moscow.

The latest furore was stirred up after The Washington Post reported on Friday that Mr Kushner - arguably Mr Trump's closest White House aide, and husband to his daughter Ivanka - made a pre-inauguration proposal to the Russian ambassador to set up a secret bug-proof link with the Kremlin.

Mr Kushner, 36, even suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States to protect such a channel from monitoring, the report said, quoting US officials.

The report, if confirmed, would raise new questions about the Trump team's relationship with the Russians, who US intelligence agencies said tried to sway the election in Mr Trump's favour.

News reports said the White House, reeling from the developments in the Russia saga, is creating a new rapid-fire communications unit to respond to the controversy, led by Mr Kushner, senior presidential adviser Steve Bannon and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Though Mr Kushner has appeared "subdued", he does not plan to step aside as Mr Trump's senior adviser or reduce his responsibilities, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed people close to him.

National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster refused to talk about the allegations.

But he said: "We have backchannel communication with a number of countries. What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner.

"I would not be concerned about it."

However, a former head of the US National Security Agency harshly condemned Mr Kushner's alleged effort to set up a secret communications line.

"What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or appropriate idea?" Mr Michael Hayden said on CNN.

He leaned toward "naivete" as an explanation, though he did not find it comforting.

Mr Malcolm Nance, a retired naval officer and expert on terrorism and intelligence, told MSNBC: "This is now sinister. There is no way this can be explained, from the intelligence perspective.

"That is indicative of espionage activity of an American citizen that is working in league with a hostile government."

Mr Kushner boasts an enormous portfolio of domestic and international responsibilities underscoring his importance as Mr Trump's chief aide-de-camp, despite having no experience in politics before the 2016 White House race.

He is the only person in the White House known to be under investigation. - AFP

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