On Monday, Jared Kushner is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but not so that we can listen. Not so that we can watch. It’s a closed-door affair, meaning that unlike Jeff Sessions, Kushner gets to dance in the dark.
How fitting. We always see his fingerprints but never hear his voice. He throws his weight around, then floats above it all. No wonder the president’s lawyers and various White House aides and advisers are fed up with him. He’s there but not there: a meddlesome ghost. A puff of smoke.
He got the emails about emissaries of a foreign adversary bearing dirt, but – what do you know? – read right over the subject line that said “Russia - Clinton - private and confidential.” No flashing lights in those proper nouns. No blaring sirens in those particular adjectives.
He attended the Trump Tower meeting, but stayed for only 10 minutes, a grace period that apparently doesn’t count. I guess it’s like canceling the on-demand movie rental shortly after the opening credits roll. No fee. No foul.
He failed to inform the FBI about dozens of meetings with foreign officials during the campaign and the transition, but that was ostensibly a harmless oops. Someone prematurely hit “send.” Happens with Amazon orders. Can happen just as easily with an application for the highest level of security clearance.
And so what if he had to update that form multiple times? He’s new to all of this government gobbledygook. Not so new that he can’t reinventthe government, broker peace in the Middle East, spearhead our negotiations with countries elsewhere in the world, make headway against the opioid epidemic, reform the criminal justice system and still carve out time to tackle the slopes of Aspen with Ivanka and the kids. But paperwork? Be reasonable. He’s Superman. He’s not Ant-Man, the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, too.
Too bad, because he’s in way over his faintly tousled hair, and that becomes clearer and clearer as the probes into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia intensify.
His actions are under scrutiny. Why was he trying to set up a private back channel for communications with Russia? Did he furnish Russian players with the fruits of the campaign data operation that he supervised? Have his business interests profited from his proximity to the president? CNN reported Friday that Chinese-language promotions for a New Jersey real estate development by Kushner Cos. specifically mention that “the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect' Jared Kushner.”
Mr. Perfect indeed. Perfectly opportunistic. Perfectly armored in the rosiest self-regard. And perfectly reflective of his father-in-law in those ways and a few others.
He and the president once ran family businesses and now run the White House like one, with a narrowly drawn circle of trust and a suspiciousness of – and chilliness toward – those outside it. Note that Sean Spicer’s resignation came little more than a week after reports that Kushner was in a lather about press aides not devising more forceful and creative ways to answer negative coverage of the Russian meeting. And rest assured that Spicer’s departure won’t be the last.
Kushner and the president blithely straddle irreconcilable contradictions to get what they want. But in Kushner’s case – in Ivanka Trump’s, too – that has been an especially perverse spectacle. He and she are the prince and princess of having it both ways.
They expect our gratitude for their supposed (and only occasionally successful) efforts to tame Trump. But they’re also the ones who worked so mightily to put him in a position where, untamed, he can do such damage. It’s as if they deliberately shattered a glass, grabbed a broom and then solicited applause for their sweeping.
They cover for the president still. Smack in the middle of his cockamamie interview with The New York Times last week, Ivanka dropped by the Oval Office so that her daughter, Arabella, could give Grandpa a kiss. How precious. How humanizing. How entirely choreographed.
Grandpa spent the duration of his campaign mocking the establishment swells who migrate to enclaves like Davos, Switzerland, and Sun Valley, Idaho, for high-altitude, highfalutin conferences on the conundrums of modern life. That didn’t stop Kushner and Ivanka from joining those very swells in Sun Valley a week and a half ago for precisely such a symposium-on-the-slopes.
I’m told that their presence had a dampening effect on formal panels and informal conversations – how do you take issue with Trump when there’s family listening in? – and that a few glares came their way. I wonder if they even noticed.
They’re outsiders when that’s politically advantageous, insiders as soon as the canapés come around. Not long before Sun Valley they swanned up to the Hamptons for a party at the home of Washington Post pooh-bah Lally Weymouth. There, in one of the global elite’s premier beachheads, they chatted radiantly with Democrats, whom Trump demonizes, and members of the media, which Trump has cast as an enemy of the American people.
It’s an elaborate moral jujitsu they perform. There’s one constant – their self-advancement and self-preservation – but Kushner may be overplaying his hand.
His counsel to Trump has been flawed, to say the least. He reportedly lobbied for the firing of James Comey, which didn’t turn out so well. Maybe the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director – a move blessed by Kushner, over the objections of Reince Priebus, the chief of staff – will prove wiser. I have my doubts.
Cast as one of the president’s most dependable assets, Kushner could in fact be a significant liability, someone whose escapades – by turns grabby and cavalier – give investigators and detractors a whole extra sandbox of improprieties to rummage through.
I hear that he feels persecuted. Wronged. In that regard, too, he’s like his father-in-law, though Trump wears his self-pity, fury and ruthlessness right out front, for the whole world to see. Kushner puts a pale mask of calm and courteousness over his.
Maybe the senators who question him Monday will pry it off. Maybe they'll actually bring some color to his face. We won’t be able to witness what happens. But we'll find out.