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Lawyer: Kushner ‘has no recollection’ of reported undisclosed Russian contacts

Lawyer: Kushner ‘has no recollection’ of reported undisclosed Russian contacts

"Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period," his legal team said in a statement. | Getty

Top presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s legal team pushed back Friday night against a report that the White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law had at least three undisclosed contacts with a Russian ambassador during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he had “no recollection” of the alleged exchanges.

"Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described,” Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick told POLITICO in a statement, responding to a Reuters report about Kushner's contacts with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

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“We have asked (Reuters) for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information," Gorelick added.

But Kushner's legal team was silent about other reports that President Donald Trump's son-in-law sought to establish a secret line of communications with the Kremlin. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the reports.

According to Reuters, Kushner held at least two phone calls between April and November of last year with Kislyak, who’s represented Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington since 2008.

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In a separate report, the Washington Post reported Kushner sought to establish secret communications with the Kremlin during a transition meeting with Kislyak. Per the Post, Kislyak said he talked to Kushner about installing secure lines between the Trump transition and Russian officials at foreign facilities to avoid conversations being monitored.

The New York Times reported that the purpose of the channel was to allow then-national security adviser Michael Flynn to communicate directly with Moscow about Syria and other security issues. The lines were never set up, the Times reported. Flynn, who is under investigation, was dismissed in February amid reports that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his contacts with Kislyak.

An array of former intelligence and national security officials reacted with astonishment to the report, stressing the seriousness of Kushner’s reported actions.

"Hard to fully convey the gravity of this,” said Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former lawyer for the National Security Agency, of the Washington Post report. “Unthinkable Kushner could stay in the White House,” she added.

"GOOD GRIEF. This is serious," Bob Deitz, an NSA and Central Intelligence Agency veteran who worked in both Clinton and Bush administrations, told Business Insider of the attempt to establish secretive Russian communications. "This is a big problem for the President."

The Democratic National Committee called on President Donald Trump to "immediately fire" Kushner.

"Trump has no choice but to immediately fire Kushner, whose failure to report this episode on his


G7 leaders give U.S. more time on climate deal

G7 leaders give U.S. more time on climate deal

Leaders of the G7 met Friday and Saturday in an effort to forge a new dynamic after a year of global political turmoil amid a rise in nationalism. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) | AP Photo


Inside Alabama’s Strange Senate race

Luther Strange’s tenure in the Senate is not even four months old, having been handed his Alabama seat by a scandal-plagued governor who resigned on the cusp of impeachment by lawmakers in Montgomery. But Republicans in Washington are going all out to rescue Strange in his campaign this year, treating him like a beloved Senate veteran.

The multimillion-dollar push in a state that Democrats have almost no chance of winning is intended to help Strange muscle through a crowded primary field that includes two bomb-throwing conservatives apt to cause Mitch McConnell some major headaches should they defeat the appointed senator.

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The Senate Leadership Fund, the powerful super PAC with close ties to the majority leader, has already reserved $2.65 million in TV airtime and is pledging up to $10 million in the conservative state. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has warned political consultants about working for Strange’s competitors. One of Strange’s challengers is already complaining that McConnell is stifling his fundraising.

And influential GOP senators are sending not-so-subtle signals that they aren’t eager to have anyone but Strange return to the Senate after the Aug. 15 primary and a potential runoff in September.

“I won’t mention any names,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), also a two-time NRSC chairman. “But we do need people who are interested in being constructive, because obviously we have a razor-thin margin of 52 [votes] and we can’t go backwards. We need to go forward.”

The rally behind Strange, a former Tulane University basketball player whose 6-foot 9-inch profile is befitting of his “Big Luther” moniker, is in one respect unsurprising: The GOP conference has a longstanding policy of defending its incumbents. That standard will play out in other states this cycle where Republicans are facing primary threats, such as Arizona and Mississippi.

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“The message needs to be sent that we protect our incumbents,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “Before there’s ever a discussion about other potential races [where] we may want to pick up a new seat, first and foremost we have to make sure that our colleagues understand that they’re a priority.”

But it’s also true Strange’s two most formidable opponents in the Alabama GOP primary — Rep. Mo Brooks and Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice — would inject some uncertainty to an already balky Senate majority by taking hardline social positions and potentially obstructing their agenda. It doesn’t hurt that Strange is polished, predictable and low-key, in addition to having existing relationships with many Republicans from the South.

Meanwhile, Brooks and Moore are attempting to capitalize on Strange’s establishment backing. In Brooks’ view, the support coalescing behind Strange is merely another example of the Washington “swamp” that Donald Trump pledged to drain on the campaign trail.

“For these Republican swamp


Trump aides facing perilous stage of Russia probe

Robert Mueller’s special investigation may just be starting, but for President Donald Trump and his aides, it’s already entered one of the most legally treacherous phases.

Now that Trump’s current and former aides and allies officially know a probe exists, they’re responsible for preserving all available information that might be relevant. That’s a task complicated by the rise of auto-delete apps like Confide, Signal and WhatsApp, as well as the move his campaign staffers have made into the White House.

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Hanging over them all: any failure to keep track of emails, messages and other records could expose them to criminal charges down the line.

Trump staffers have relied on the latest in smartphone technology to shield their digital activity from hackers as well as leak-obsessed superiors – so much so that White House press secretary Sean Spicer even reprimanded his press shop for using them in February.

But anyone questioned by Mueller’s team may find that just having encrypted apps on their phones--which didn’t exist the last time there was a major Washington investigation of this kind—may raise suspicions that they’re hiding information.

“Technology changes, but the law doesn’t,” said Stanley Brand, an attorney who represented White House press secretary George Stephanopoulos during the probe of the President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater land deals.

Another wrinkle that could cause headaches for Trump staffers: The lack of available materials from the Trump campaign. The Washington Post reported Friday that the Senate Intelligence Committee has already asked Trump’s campaign committee to produce documents—including emails and phone records—related to Russia going back to June 2015.

Unlike the White House, which is subject to federal recordkeeping requirements, campaigns aren’t bound to preserve documents. But staffers may have some emails still backed up on their phones or computers, or documents - including calendars and other records that could wind up being critical for investigators.

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Presidential campaigns tend to have short windows for maintaining emails on their private servers. And while they often do keep field plans, budgets and other critical personnel documents for archival or legal purposes, the retention policies for emails frequently mean all messages are automatically deleted within 30 to 90 days unless they’re specifically preserved.

Trump’s campaign, said a former senior aide, didn’t do much in the way of establishing a backup plan to preserve those digital records. “You’d be giving us too much credit,” said the former staffer. “The idea of document retention did not come up. The idea of some formal structure did not come up.”

The White House declined to comment when asked what staff have been told about preserving documents related to the ongoing investigations. In March, the Associated Press reported that White House Counsel Don McGahn instructed White House staff in late February to save all materials that could potentially


Trump's delay of calorie-posting rule jolts restaurants

President Donald Trump’s push to reduce the government burden on business is instead causing chaos in the food industry after he suddenly yanked a rule requiring calories to be posted on menus nationwide.

Trump’s Food and Drug Administration delayed the rule just four days before it was supposed to go into effect this month, jolting food purveyors from steakhouses to convenience stores who’d already been trying to comply. And even though the FDA touted the delay as a way to reduce costs and increase flexibility for businesses, the change did not come early enough to save these companies any money. Many had already spent millions of dollars printing and shipping new menus to thousands of locations across the country so they would be ready for the original May 5 deadline.

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"We were very shocked and discouraged," said Sara Burnett, director of food policy and wellness at Panera, which has been voluntarily posting calories on its menus since 2010.

"We've had plenty of time for organizations to figure out how to do this either on your own, or strictly in compliance with the federal legislation,” said Burnett, noting that FDA and the industry have been working on menu labeling for seven years. “We've all had plenty of time to prepare."

Now what’s left is a hodgepodge of inconsistent menu labeling that’s confusing for consumers as each chain had to make a last-minute decision about whether to go ahead with their plans to post calories. Case in point: The $45 billion pizza industry. At California Pizza Kitchen, a sit-down restaurant, calories are now listed for each slice of pie, right next to the price. Over at Domino’s, if you order online, as most people do, you won't see any calorie counts until you get to checkout. At Pizza Hut? They label calories in at least some of their stores, but those numbers don't show up when you order online.

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The delay also re-opens the rifts between different parts of the food industry over how stringent the rules should be. The restaurant industry itself — the second-largest employer in the country — actually lobbied alongside consumer advocates for the federal labeling mandate as a way to fix to the messy and expensive patchwork of state and local laws that had cropped up at the behest of health advocates across the country. Meanwhile, the grocery, convenience store and pizza lobbies have been pushing back, seeking less-strict requirements.

Former President Barack Obama’s FDA started writing the rule after the calorie-labeling mandate was tucked into the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But even during the Obama administration, which supported the rules as a way to help tackle the country’s crippling obesity epidemic, the requirement faced repeated delays under industry pressure. The rule that the FDA originally proposed in 2011 and finalized in

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