Shannon Vavra

Kushner wanted a secret comms channel with Kremlin

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner wanted to set up a secret communications channel between President Trump's transition team and the Kremlin that would be free of monitoring. He wanted the secret channel to discuss policy issues and Syria with Russia, according to three officials who spoke with the NYT.

What we know: Kushner requested on Dec. 1 or 2 that the secret channel be set up during a meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower — a meeting also attended by Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser. Kushner wanted to use Russian diplomatic facilities for the proposed meetings. They also discussed setting up a meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian contact in a third country.

Update: Once Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State, Trump's team felt there was no need for a backchannel, per an AP report, which confirmed Kushner made the request. The AP, like the NYT, reports that the channel was meant to connect Flynn with military leaders.

Why it matters: The revelation comes at a time when the FBI and DOJ are conducting an ongoing investigation into Russia's election meddling and any collusion between Russian officials and Trump team members.

Some officials said the request showed a "staggering naivete," as WashPost put it. The White House and Flynn lawyer Robert Kelner, declined to comment to the Post, while the Russian embassy didn't respond to requests for comment.

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow about the request and was "taken aback" by the proposal, since it would pose a security risk for Russia and Trump's team, per WashPost

Worth noting:

  • This report is based on U.S. officials briefed on intel reports that come from intercepts of Russian communications. Russians are known to thread false information into communications to sow doubt in the U.S.
  • Trump's advisers have been similarly secretive about meetings they have had with leaders from the United Arab Emirates.

Kushner had undisclosed contacts with Russian ambassador

Evan Vucci / AP

Jared Kushner had at least three undisclosed calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials tell Reuters. Two of these calls occurred between April and November last year. Kushner's lawyer, Jamie Gorelick said Kushner had "no recollection" of the calls. The FBI declined to comment to Reuters and the Russian Embassy said it is policy to not comment on diplomatic contacts.

Why it matters: Reuters, citing a current U.S. official, says the FBI is looking into "whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump."


White House may have lawyers vet Trump's tweets

Evan Vucci / AP

The White House is considering vetting Trump's tweets and other social media posts with a team of lawyers, the WSJ reports. The goal is so tweets "don't go from the president's mind out to the universe." Another tactic that has been in play is limiting Trump's screen time, as Axios reported.


DHS Chief: U.S. vulnerable from limits on gathering data

Susan Walsh / AP

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Fox host Steve Doocy you'd "never leave the house" if you knew all the terror threats he is aware of and that the terror threat is much worse than most know. "It's everywhere. It's constant. It's nonstop…it can happen here almost anytime." He told Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning: "Thus far we've been successful in keeping an attack from overseas coming here, but we have some vulnerabilities."

The one vulnerability he cites: Restrictions on collecting "too much data" on private citizens. These limits leave the U.S. on the defense when it comes to catching criminals, according to Kelly. To be sure, he said those restrictions are in place "as they should be" since the U.S. is a free and open society.

Why now: This comes a day after top secret documents have been made public about how the NSA has "noncompliance" issues with protocol on gathering data on citizens, presenting a "very serious Fourth Amendment issue." Read more on that here .

Tillerson: U.S. takes "full responsibility" for Manchester leaks

Toby Melville / AP

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in a joint-presser with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that the U.S. takes "full responsibility" for the leaks U.S. officials made to the media about the terrorist attack in Manchester.

"The President has been very strong in his condemnation and has called for an immediate investigation and prosecution of those who are found to have been responsible for leaking any of this information to the public. We take full responsibility for that and we are – we obviously regret that that happened."

The contradiction: Read that quote twice. Moments before he said the U.S. is responsible for the leaks, he said Trump called for an investigation into the leaks, saying the DOJ should hold those who leaked accountable — not that the government is responsible.


Trump was the only G7 leader not to endorse Paris deal

Evan Vucci / AP

On the second-to-last-day of Trump's first foreign trip, he was the only leader of the G7 leaders to not endorse the Paris Agreement to lower carbon emissions as the G7 leaders met in Taormina, Sicily in Italy. The six other leaders confirmed "our commitment and our determination" to the Paris Accord. The U.S. confirmed "a period of reflection" on the deal.

Clarification: Gary Cohn stepped in front of that and said, "I think [Trump]'s leaning to understand the European position. Look as you know from the U.S., there's very strong views on both sides." (Check out Axios' Amy Harder's breakdown on the competing interests.) Cohn added, "His views are evolving, he came here to learn and get smarter…His basis for decision ultimately will be what's best for the United States."

On ISIS: All seven leaders signed a measure to put pressure on internet and media sites to do more in stopping the spread of "hateful ideology," and all agreed the threat from ISIS "is evolving rather than disappearing," stepping behind Britain in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack.

Trump was the last leader to arrive to the G7 meeting, per a pool report. Still, later in the day while overlooking the sea, "at one point all leaders were gathered around POTUS, listening to him, laughing at times," although the pool couldn't hear what was said.

The who's who of the G7: Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister May, and, of course, POTUS Trump. Also at the meeting: European Commission President Juncker, European Council President Tusk.

Here's the rundown of what else went down Friday and what we learned today from POTUS:

  1. Trump kicked off his day with a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss North Korea and terrorism, and they agreed to enhance sanctions on North Korea according to the readout of the call. Trump said he and Abe had "developed a great friendship" and Abe congratulated Trump on his first successful foreign trip. 1 fun thing from Shinzo Abe: "There is one unfortunate thing I have to confess, this time around we will not be able to play golf together."
  2. On the attack on Christians in Egypt: Trump's statement: "…[T]his attack also steels our resolve to bring nations together for the righteous purpose of crushing the evil organizations of terror, and exposing their depraved, twisted, and thuggish ideology."
  3. On Gianforte winning the House race in Montana: Trump said, "Great win in Montana."
  4. On Russia: Cohn clarified, "We're not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything we would probably look to get tougher on Russia."
  5. On yesterday's comments about Germany: When Trump was asked, "Did you say that Germany is very bad?" Trump said nothing. Later Friday Cohn clarified Trump's Thursday comment: "He said they're very bad on trade but he doesn't have a problem with Germany."
  6. On Trump's support for Macron: When asked if Trump said he supported Macron over candidate Marine Le Pen in France's presidential election, Cohn said, "I don't have a comment on that."

Sessions vows to take travel ban appeal to Supreme Court

Ted S. Warren / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the DOJ will ask the Supreme Court to review Thursday's ruling from a federal appeals court keeping the block on President Trump's travel ban in place:

"President Trump's executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the Nation safe…The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court..."

The dissenters: Sessions is right, the court was split 10-3. The dissenters said that the law does not permit judges to second-guess a president's ability to make decisions about national security.

The majority: Chief Judge Roger Gregory, however, wrote the ban "drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination."


U.K. resumes sharing intel with U.S.

Matt Dunham / AP

The U.K. has resumed sharing intel with the U.S. according to the U.K. Home Secretary, Reuters and BBC report. This comes after the U.K. halted sharing intel with U.S. officials due to undesired leaks to the media about the Manchester bombings and photos of the crime scene.

Why now? U.K. counter-terrorism officers reportedly received assurances today about the U.S. Earlier today Trump said he had asked the DOJ to launch review of the leaks and threatened prosecution.


Zuckerberg: We need more purpose

Steven Senne / AP

Mark Zuckerberg told Harvard's graduating Class of 2017 Thursday that strong projects creating a sense of purpose for everyone involved. He said his hardest times at Facebook came about when he didn't take the time to explain the purpose of the project.

His call to action: Let''s "do big things not just to create progress, but to create purpose...You are graduating into a world that needs purpose. It's up to you."

His advice to those with big ideas: "Be prepared to be misunderstood."

What pop culture gets wrong about tech and innovation: "The idea of a single eureka moment is a lie," which he says is detrimental to future innovators who tend to think, "we feel like we just haven't had ours yet." Also, "no one writes math formulas on glass."

Here's everything Zuckerberg says our society needs right now:

  • "How about stopping climate change before we destroy the planet and getting millions of people involved installing solar panels?"
  • Track health data and share genomes
  • "Invest in cures so people don't get sick"
  • "How about modernizing democracy so everyone can vote online?"
  • "And how about personalizing education so everyone can learn… continuous education through our lives"
  • "Let's do it in a way that gives everyone" a role
  • "We need affordable child care"
  • "Healthcare that's not tied to just one employer"
  • "We need a society that's less focused on locking us up and [that] stigmatizes us when they do"
  • Eliminate income inequality
  • Deal with automation and self-driving trucks
His take on globalization: "There are people left behind by globalization…It's tough to care about other people when we don't feel good about our lives at home. There's pressure to turn inward."
Zuckerberg was accepted into Harvard as a member of the Class of 2006 and today received a Doctor of Laws with the Class of 2017.

Malls hinder sales for Kay, Zales, Jared brand owner

Paul Sakuma / AP

Signet Jewelers, owner of Kay, Zales, and Jared, is looking to drop out of malls: it's going to close between 165 - 170 stores this year and is aiming to open 90 - 115 stores elsewhere. Signet is the largest specialty retail jeweler in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Breaking it down: This adds to retailers' continued exodus from malls as they eye locations with better traffic to boost sales.

Another move to boost business: Signet is outsourcing its credit portfolio, which allows customers to make purchases, for a few reasons: "eliminating material credit risk...enhancing net sales...minimizing any disruption to business," according to the earnings conference call. Last year in-house credit sales dropped by 12.6%.