It’s hard to write about Jared Kushner without going straight to the Icarus cliche – hubris, flying too close to the sun, falling into the sea. I once wrote that he was the only one of President Donald Trump’s close advisers who couldn’t be fired, but Kushner’s father-in-law would be smart to prove me wrong.
It is possible, of course, that Kushner was acting on Trump’s orders when he allegedly suggested setting up a secret communications channel with Moscow using Russia’s secure equipment. In that case, Trump’s reluctance to cut him loose would be understandable – and the Russia scandal would lead directly to the president himself. If not, are family ties keeping Kushner employed at the White House? Or is it Trump’s mounting sense of persecution and his reluctance to let an aggressive media push him around?
Whatever his motivation, Trump is allowing the Russia scandal to become not an extended nightmare but a permanent one. And all the Twitter tantrums in the world won’t make it go away.
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It is, of course, ironic that Kushner was originally seen as the benign, socially acceptable face of Trumpism. He and his allies were supposed to constitute the reasonable and responsible faction in the West Wing, as opposed to the alt-right barbarians clustered around Steve Bannon. But while Bannon’s name has not come up publicly in the Russia investigation, at least thus far, Kushner is now reportedly a focus of the FBI probe.
And with good reason. At a December meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Kushner reportedly suggested using secure equipment at the Russian embassy or one of the Russian consulates to open a secret communications channel with the government of strongman Vladimir Putin. This is wrong on so many levels.
First, Barack Obama was still president at the time; while it is normal for an incoming administration to have informal meet-and-greets with foreign officials, Kushner’s proposal was so inappropriate that Kislyak was said to be stunned. Second, the idea of using only Russian communications equipment for the proposed dialogue suggests the Trump administration had something to hide from U.S. intelligence agencies. Third, there is the obvious question of what Kushner wanted to talk about that couldn’t be discussed through existing channels.
With someone so close to Trump in the crosshairs, special counsel Robert Mueller has every reason to examine any relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or oligarchs in minute detail – and also to look closely at any Russia connections the Trump and Kushner family business empires might have.
The White House should thus be settling in for a long siege. The good news, from Trump’s point of view, is that his senior aides are discussing how to set up a “war room” to handle communications about the scandal, theoretically letting the rest of the administration get on with governing. The bad news is that Kushner has been involved in those discussions – when instead he should have been cleaning out his office.
Even setting the scandal aside, it is clear that Kushner gradually emerged as the most powerful of Trump’s senior advisers – and is not doing a very good job. His fingerprints were not on the health care disaster; and while he hasn’t made relations between Israelis and Palestinians any better, he hasn’t made them any worse. But he has shown absolutely no sense of how to turn intention into legislation. And his instincts are so out of tune that he reportedly advised Trump that firing FBI Director James Comey would be a sure political win, rather than the equivalent of opening the gates of Hell.
Trump is said to be angriest at Kushner about something else: Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, was caught on video last month trying to lure Beijing investors into participating in a Kushner Companies condominium project in New Jersey by holding out the prospect of immigration visas that can lead to permanent residence in the United States.
Yet Kushner remains. And no communications strategy, however brilliant, has a chance of succeeding so long as Trump has access to his Twitter account.
“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names,” Trump tweeted Sunday amid a morning rant, “it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”
Wrong. We don’t fabricate sources and these days we don’t have to look hard to find them. Right now they’re talking about Jared Kushner – and have nothing nice to say.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.