Trump's Biggest Goals at Risk as Kushner Is Sucked Into Probe
EghtesadOnline: The weight of an FBI probe could stifle Jared Kushner in his role as President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser, potentially undermining policy priorities and hindering behind-the-scenes communications with business leaders and foreign governments.
According to Bloomberg, Kushner is embattled but defiant after his contacts with Russian officials following the 2016 campaign drew the attention of federal investigators, a person close to him said. He’ll fight any suggestion he acted inappropriately and plans to keep his head down and focus on his work, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss Kushner’s thinking.
Kushner, 36, is married to the president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, and could not be easily replaced in Trump’s inner circle. He oversees a broad portfolio that includes improving care for veterans, fighting the opioid epidemic and brokering a peace deal in the Middle East.
Inside the White House, Kushner acts as Trump’s eyes and ears, and plays a moderating role against more conservative and nationalistic officials such as Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Outside the West Wing, business executives and foreign leaders say they regard Kushner as an honest broker who will deliver their messages to the president unadulterated.
But over the past week, Kushner has been sucked into a political crisis that already threatened to derail Trump’s ambitious domestic agenda, including a repeal of Obamacare, rewriting the U.S. tax code and hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investments.
Kushner tried to establish a secret back channel between the president-elect and the Kremlin after Trump’s election, and is reported to have held multiple undisclosed meetings with Russian officials during the campaign and transition. He’s a focus, but not a target, of a wide-reaching Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Russian meddling in the election and connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Democrats have seized on the reports, calling for Kushner to step down or have his security clearance reviewed.
“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement last week. “He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
Level of Trust
Regardless of whether Kushner did anything illegal or inappropriate in his meetings with Russian officials, he finds himself on defense. His immediate future holds the promise of requests for documents, interviews or even congressional testimony, creating a cloud of controversy that could hurt his standing within the White House and with foreign officials.
Kushner enjoys a level of trust with his father-in-law that eludes most top White House aides, one person close to Trump said. Few among Trump’s staff knew Kushner before the past year, when Trump ramped up his presidential campaign. Kushner married into the family in 2009 and was with Trump during his earliest days on the campaign trail. He recruited many of the people now holding top White House jobs.
Kushner acknowledges he enjoys his position near the top of the U.S. government, despite having no previous experience in public service, mainly because he understands his father-in-law and has earned his trust, senior administration officials said. He’s agnostic on most policy issues, which as a businessman he hadn’t thought much about until the campaign, and is primarily interested in helping advance Trump’s agenda rather than any personal beliefs, one official said.
Trump and Kushner schedule one-on-one talks every day in addition to impromptu meetings, a Trump adviser said. He arrives most days by 7:00 a.m. New York time and stays until 10:00 p.m., aside from Fridays when he leaves early for the Jewish Sabbath.
Kushner has accrued a large portfolio for any one official, especially one without any government experience. He is leading a newly created White House Office of American Innovation whose tasks include revamping the structure of the federal government, improving operations at the Veterans Affairs department, combating opioid abuse and modernizing government technology.
Kushner’s role is oversight and coordination rather than the nuts-and-bolts work of solving problems, like a CEO overseeing divisions of a company, said a person close to him.
His specific duties are abstract and can vary depending on the day’s events, ranging from trouble-shooting VA issues to taking calls from foreign officials. Most recently he led planning for the Middle East leg of Trump’s first overseas trip. A White House official said Kushner is working this week to try to exploit momentum from the visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, where Trump sought to lay groundwork for new peace talks between the Jewish State and Palestinians.
Kushner has also served as the point person for officials from Canada, Mexico, Germany and China, though he has tried to direct daily contacts to the State Department and National Security Council. Some foreign leaders, though, prefer to deal with Kushner directly, viewing him as more relatable, reasonable and worldly than Trump, according to one foreign official.
When media reports surfaced that Trump was planning to withdraw from NAFTA, for example, it was Kushner who called the Canadian government to set up a call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump, said a person familiar with the call. Kushner remained on the line as Trump and Trudeau laid out their positions, a second person familiar with the call said.
Kushner also acts as a liaison to the business community, where he has relationships dating to his time running his family’s New Jersey real estate business, particularly in the banking world. He has helped arrange CEO meetings at the White House, which the president uses as a public illustration of his pro-business positions.
Kushner is mostly quiet and reserved in White House meetings, preferring to maneuver behind the scenes, said a person who has attended multiple meetings with him. He doesn’t lay his cards on the table, like Bannon, or try to persuade everyone else that he’s right, like White House counsel Don McGahn, the person said. He regards his role as ensuring Trump gets the full picture and the best advice from his aides rather than interjecting his own opinions, one senior administration official said.
At an April meeting to discuss whether the U.S. should stay in the Paris climate agreement, for example, Kushner was mostly silent while his wife Ivanka Trump made a forceful case to stay in the deal, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was critical of remaining in the agreement, and Bannon calculated the political repercussions, according to a person who was present.
Kushner knows his place, to some extent. While he often has a seat at the table, he doesn’t get involved in the details of trade or military actions and shies away from dealing with Congress, an official said. He has faced a steep learning curve and was blindsided several times early on by rules and legal procedures governing everything from travel to deal-making.