Hope Yen
and Vivian Salama

WASHINGTON: Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law may need to be revoked.

Trump’s Homeland Security chief defended the idea of establishing that kind of communication as a “smart thing” and said he didn’t see “any big issue here” for Kushner.

But to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, it’s “obviously very concerning” that a key Trump campaign figure was possibly seeking secret communications with a country that intelligence experts say intervened in the 2016 election.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California said the government needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter and urged a review of Kushner’s security clearance “to find out whether he was truthful.”

“If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said.

The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Kushner in December proposed a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team. Kushner spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about facilitating sensitive discussions to explore the incoming administration’s options with Russia as it developed its Syria policy.

The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Russia, a pivotal player in Syria, has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, often at the expense of civilians and at odds with U.S. policy during Syria’s long civil war.

The White House did not acknowledge the meeting or Kushner’s attendance until March. At the time, a White House official dismissed it as a brief courtesy meeting.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the latest allegations involving Kushner as “serious” and called for a thorough investigation.

“He needs to answer for what was happening at the time,” Booker said. “What’s worrying me are the patterns we’re seeing. So one is this administration not talking about our values, cozying up to authoritarian leaders. And the other pattern we have is just a continuous drumbeat of inappropriate contacts with the Russians.”

Lawyers for Kushner said he was willing to talk with federal and congressional investigators about his foreign contacts and his work on the campaign.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he didn’t know if the news reports were true but described back channel communications as a “good thing.”

He was echoing the sentiment of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who declined to address the contents of Kushner’s December meeting with the Russian diplomat to reporters in Sicily over the weekend and suggested that back channel communications were commonplace and not concerning.

“It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said.