WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner by retweeting a Fox News story reporting that it was the Russians — not Kushner — who suggested a communications backchannel.
Though Trump has denounced anonymous sourcing regularly and vociferously, the story he shared with his millions of followers uses a single unnamed source to describe the December meeting at Trump Tower between Kushner and Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
The Washington Post first reported last week that Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that Kushner had proposed a secret, secure communications channel. The Post cited U.S. officials speaking anonymously.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not confirm or deny what happened in the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, despite Trump’s retweet of the article about the exchange.
“What your question assumes is a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out,” Spicer told a reporter.
Asked whether he believes the source in the Fox News story is more credible than those in the Post’s, he said, “I’m not going to get into confirming stuff. There’s an ongoing investigation.”
Also Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on the cellphone matter.
The Post published its report on Kushner while Trump was making his first trip abroad as president. Trump returned home to several Russia-related developments and still must appoint an FBI director to fill the vacancy left when he ousted James Comey.
Chris Wray, a former U.S. assistant attorney general, and John Pistole, a former deputy FBI director, were interviewed Tuesday for the FBI post, Spicer said.
Trump’s return to Washington also has meant his resumption of posting his opinion on a variety of matters, though he refrained from freewheeling tweets during his nine-day trip.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that the Republicans who control the Senate should adopt a filibuster-proof approach to keep Democrats from upsetting his health care and tax code overhaul plans.
“The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!” Trump tweeted.
Senators already are planning on using reconciliation on those issues, which would not require a supermajority, and Republicans are at odds among themselves — not just with Democrats — on how to hammer out the legislation.
A spokesman for institutionalist Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond with comment.
Trump on Tuesday also criticized German economic policy on the heels of meetings overseas with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change,” he tweeted.
Merkel over the weekend had expressed frustrations in talks in recent days with Trump. “The times in which we could fully rely on others are partly over. I have experienced this in the last few days,” she said Sunday, referring to the role of European nations.
Trump also fired off several tweets Sunday, the first full day in the White House since he returned from his trip.
“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!” he wrote.
Spicer on Tuesday reiterated a statement by Kushner’s attorney that Kushner was willing to share what he knows about the meetings with Congress.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, on Fox News cited National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, saying that “backchannels like this are the regular course of business” and adding that Kushner has Trump’s full confidence.