WASHINGTON – Do you have a problem – trouble at work, relationship stress, or just some really hard math homework – that you can’t resolve on your own? You should turn to the man who is fixing problems for more than 300 million Americans.
You should ask Jared Kushner.
President Donald Trump does it. When he needed somebody to negotiate peace in the Middle East, he asked Kushner. When he needed somebody to be his point man with China and with Mexico, he asked Kushner. When he needed somebody to solve the opioid epidemic, reform veterans’ care, overhaul the criminal justice system and reinvent the entire federal government, Trump again turned to Kushner. Even when he just needed somebody to strap a flak jacket over his navy blazer and fly off to Baghdad, Kushner was the one he asked.
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The president’s 36-year-old son-in-law has done all this and more, even while keeping up with a demanding family life since the election: a beach trip to Hawaii, a ski trip to Aspen, another ski trip to British Columbia. Clearly he has time to help you, too. Kid has a fever? Rattle in the transmission? Weeds in the lawn? Ring around the collar? Ask JK.
But what happens when Jared Kushner has a problem? What happens if – and I’m speaking strictly hypothetically here – Kushner were to neglect to mention in his security-clearance forms that he had had more than 100 meetings with foreigners, including some Russians? Sure, you can ask him. But he won’t have a good answer.
The seen-but-not-heard Kushner met with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday (at a session closed to the public, naturally). He explained his repeated lapses – he had to amend one disclosure form three times – by saying, essentially, that he was new to politics and so terribly busy that he couldn’t keep up with everything. And he used the hoariest excuse of all: He blamed his assistant.
“My experience was in business, not politics,” he said in a written statement, and described himself as overwhelmed. “I must have received thousands of calls, letters and emails from people looking to talk or meet on a variety of issues and topics, including hundreds from outside the United States,” he wrote, and “I could not be responsive to everyone.” He explained that he just didn’t know he was sitting down with people promising dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government because it “was typical for me to receive 200 or more emails a day during the campaign. I did not have the time to read every one.”
Kushner explained how a full accounting of his foreign contacts fell through the cracks “amid the scramble of finalizing the unwinding of my involvement from my company, moving my family to Washington, completing the paper work to divest assets and resign from my outside positions and complete my security and financial disclosure forms.” A “miscommunication” led his assistant to file his form prematurely.
That’s the trouble with Kushner’s defense in the Russia imbroglio. He’s essentially arguing that he isn’t corrupt – he’s just in over his head. He didn’t really know what he was doing, and he was too busy. Coming from the man charged with handling everything from Middle East peace to opioids, this isn’t reassuring.
This inexperience defense is consistent with Kushner’s filing Friday showing that he had previously neglected to disclose more than 70 assets, as required, including an art collection (with wife Ivanka Trump) worth as much as $25 million. The Middle East peace negotiator also did not disclose that he held Israeli government bonds.
Yet Kushner’s father-in-law entrusted him with what is arguably the most difficult portfolio ever to be assigned to a White House aide. His previous experience: running his family real estate business, which he took over in 2005 when his father was convicted of tax evasion. The next year, Kushner bought a $1.8 billion Manhattan building, near the top of the real estate cycle, and his family has been trying to find investors to keep the project afloat.
So now Kushner is defending himself by playing the ingenue: “All of these were tasks that I had never performed on a campaign previously,” and “I could not even remember the name of the Russian ambassador.” Kushner, arguing that he didn’t seek to create a “back channel” with Russia, explained that he merely asked the Russian ambassador if he “had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use.”
The defense leaves one big question unanswered: Why is a man of such inexperience in charge of so much?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.