Back channels to foreign leaders: Shocking or business as usual?

by WorldTribune Staff, May 28, 2017

Establishing so-called “back channels” with foreign governments is not the big deal the major media is making it out to be, Trump administration officials and analysts say.

Asked about reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner had attempted to set up a secret channel of communication with Russia before Trump took office, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that it was normal, Reuters reported on May 27.

Henry Kissinger with Zhou Enlai in Beijing, 1971.

Asked if it would concern him if someone in the administration tried to set up a back channel with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin, McMaster replied “no.”

“We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster said.

“So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it.”

That sort of back-channel communication is not unprecedented, said former CIA official Paul Pillar, now a fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had a special penchant for back channels and used private connections to reach out to Soviet and Chinese leaders, among others, Pillar said.

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said that Kushner allegedly trying to establish a back channel with Russia is not a “major development” but it does raise “great concern” for his civil liberties.

“We have a special counsel with a mandate not to investigate crime, but to investigate the entire Russian matter, and in general, prosecutors are given statutory authority when to investigate only federal statutory crimes,” Dershowitz said in a May 26 interview on MSNBC.

“I have no idea what crime is going to be investigated here.”

Dershowitz added that “perhaps it should be” a crime for a political campaign to coordinate with a foreign government, but as for now, it’s not.

“It’s a terrible thing to do,” the famed attorney said. “It’s not a crime. I worry that the special counsel has a roving commission to investigate sin, political evil and that raises great dangers.”

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