Errol Louis: Jared Kushner's statement to Congress demonstrates an untenable conflict between his two personae -- political operator and bumbling novice
It's up to Congress to determine which Jared Kushner has been entrusted with so much power by President Trump, Louis writes
Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Will the real Jared Kushner please stand up?
The White House is asking us to believe that Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, is qualified to run point on an astoundingly broad portfolio of top-level domestic and international affairs, including negotiating Middle East peace, tackling the opioid addiction crisis, globe-trotting to Iraq with American generals, hosting an official dinner for the leader of China and launching an effort to bring private sector innovation and efficiency to government operations.
But according to his own statement to Congress, Kushner is so naive, inexperienced and disorganized that he knew nothing of the substance, purpose or fellow attendees of key meetings he sat in on with high-ranking Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition – meetings that Kushner repeatedly neglected to disclose, as required by law.
These scenarios – Kushner as trusted White House troubleshooter and Kushner as bumbling, overwhelmed novice – are in direct conflict. Both cannot be true.
If Kushner is swamped by email and inattentive to details like remembering the name of the Russian ambassador to the United States after meeting him, then the President’s son-in-law should not be tasked with running so many key government initiatives.
And if he does possess the almost superhuman ability to manage so many projects, his account of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, to which he was invited with an email whose subject line read “Clinton - Russia - Private and Confidential,” strains credulity.
Kushner says of that fateful meeting in a circulated statement to Congress: “I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.”
We now know that the stated purpose of the meeting – spelled out in the email Kushner claims not to have read – was “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia. … This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
But 10 minutes into the meeting, says Kushner, he heard talk about the adoption of Russian children, wrote the gathering off as a waste of time, concocted a reason to leave early, and did not follow up on it.
At a minimum, that doesn’t sound like the behavior of an official prepared to navigate the minutiae of Middle East diplomacy or the opioid crisis. It also greatly weakens Kushner’s contention, printed in boldfaced type in his statement to Congress, that, “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”
How would he know if he did? The man barely seems to be paying attention to what’s going on around him.
Members of Congress should be sure to ask Kushner what steps, if any, he has taken to determine what was actually going on in the June 2016 meeting.
They should also ask Kushner if he now realizes that when Russian operatives and officials talk about the adoption of Russian children, they are in fact discussing the lifting of American sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s human rights abuses.
And most of all, they should ask Kushner if it’s possible, in retrospect, that Russian operatives were trying to take advantage of his inattention to detail to share damaging information on Clinton, build a case for the lifting of sanctions, or pursue other objectives.
With truthful answers, we’ll get a clearer sense of which Jared Kushner has been entrusted with so much power by President Trump.