In the earliest days of the Trump White House, it seemed there wasn’t a job Jared Kushner didn’t do.
Heading up the US’s involvement in the Middle East peace process, leading American relations with China, reinventing the way government runs to make it more efficient – those are just three of the seven(ish) jobs Kushner had at one point in the White House.
The depth and breadth of Kushner’s responsibilities makes the news of the last 24 hours all the more humbling for the once high-flying son-in-law of the President of the United States.
Due to concerns about his financial dealings during the presidential transition process, Kushner is still yet to secure a permanent security clearance and saw his temporary security clearance downgraded by chief of staff John Kelly last week. That means that Kushner might no longer be able to see many of the documents he had eyes on prior to Kelly’s decision – including the presidential daily briefing.
Just as that bombshell was sinking in, came another: The Washington Post reported that four countries – the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico – had engaged in private discussions about Kushner as a potential target for manipulation due to his complex personal financial issues and his relative inexperience in foreign affairs. That same story reported that Kushner had contacts with officials of foreign governments without informing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a break in protocol considered a no-no in diplomatic circles.
This paragraph from the Post story is particularly striking:
“Within the White House, Kushner’s lack of government experience and his business debt were seen from the beginning of his tenure as potential points of leverage that foreign governments could use to influence him, the current and former officials said.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that the change in Kushner’s security clearance would not impact his standing in the White House. “He is a valued member of the team and will continue to do the important work he has been doing since he started in the administration,” she said.
Which, of course. Donald Trump may not be a terribly loyal person, but the one group he always protects and leans on is his family. And Kushner is family – married to Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka. (Ivanka Trump has had a bad week of her own.)
The strength of Trump’s commitment notwithstanding, the recent revelations about Kushner’s security clearance and his targeting by foreign governments would seem to raise questions about not just whether he can carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of his job but whether he should be allowed to at all.
Let’s take the first question first.
Despite Sanders’ assertion that Kushner “will continue to the important work he has been doing since he started in the administration,” it’s hard to see how. Without top secret security clearance, Kushner will not be allowed to see any number of documents relating to foreign affairs.
“This would seem to be crippling,” CNN national security analyst John Kirby, a former spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department in the Obama administration, told CNN’s Eli Watkins.
Of course, Trump, as President, has the ability to declassify information – and could do so in order to allow Kushner to see certain (or all) documents.
The idea of Trump declassifying documents solely to allow someone without a top secret – or permanent – security clearance to see them, however, might not fly well with the national security and intelligence communities.
Which brings me to the second – and more important – point. Whether or not Trump can keep Kushner on in his current role, should he?
After all, we know – thanks to The Washington Post – that Kushner’s financial issues and his inexperience have made him someone that foreign governments believe is vulnerable to manipulation. And we also know that Kushner has in the past met with foreign officials without the knowledge of the national security adviser.
That would be a concern for any administration about any employee. It should be a massive concern when it comes to Kushner who, until last week’s decision by Kelly, had access to the most top secret information in the government and who also happens to be one of a handful of people closest to President Trump.
Imagine, for a minute, if, say, Chelsea Clinton’s husband Marc Mezvinsky had the same job in a Clinton White House that Kushner has in this one. And that there were similar concerns about his security clearance and reports about foreign powers viewing him as ripe for manipulation.
Republicans would – rightly! – be going nuts.
No matter how close an adviser is to a president, issues like the ones raised over the last 24 hours about Kushner have to be grounds to reconsider his role or dismiss him from the White House entirely. In fact, the closeness and influence Kushner has with Trump makes it even more dangerous for him to remain in his current role.
Will Trump see any of that danger? Or acknowledge that for the good of his administration – and, um, the country – it might be best for Kushner to find another job to do either in or out of the White House?
Almost certainly not. Family comes first for Trump – always. And Jared is very much family.