There’s no question that Jared Kushner’s proximity to President Trump poses a greater liability for Trump than for Kushner. Because of his many points of contact with Russia, Kushner presence encourages the public perception of untoward connections between the White House and Kremlin. And inside the White House, his sprawling portfolio means he could drag any number of colleagues into Mueller’s sights. So why is Kushner still in the White House?
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that White House lawyers felt that Kushner’s multiple entanglements with Russia made him too great a liability and wanted him to leave the president’s staff:
“After some members of the legal team aired their concerns to Mr. Trump in June, including in at least one meeting in the White House, press aides to the legal team began to prepare for the possibility that Mr. Kushner would step down, drafting a statement explaining his departure, said people familiar with the matter.
President Trump rejected the idea, saying he believed Kushner had done nothing wrong, and Kushner remains in the administration. But Kushner’s complicated web of contacts hasn’t gotten any simpler as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation moves forward.”
Trump’s lawyers are not the only ones worried about Kushner. Many lawmakers are so concerned about Kushner’s threat to national security that they openly called for the suspension of his security clearance.
However, Kushner somehow managed to end up at the center of everything: Middle East peace, Iraq, criminal-justice reform, relations with Mexico, and probably a half-dozen more issues forgotten even by Kushner himself.
There are several reasons why Mueller, as well as some of the other investigations considering Russian interference in the election, might look closely at Kushner, 36, who is married to Ivanka Trump and, until joining the White House, led his family’s real-estate business.
Kushner was present at the June 9, 2016, meeting that Donald Trump Jr. set up in which he expected to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin-tied source. Later, after the election, he reportedly spoke with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about establishing a back channel between the Trump transition team and the Russian government. Curiously, the channel would have involved Trump officials using Russian diplomatic posts to communicate with Moscow, a method that would seem mostly to elude any American intelligence awareness of the conversations.
As The Journal notes, Kushner also met with the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state financial institution, in December, during the presidential transition. The conversation is curious not only because it represents a top Trump official secretly meeting with an arm of the Russian government, but also because accounts of the meeting differ in important ways. Kushner says he attended the meeting in his capacity as an adviser to President-elect Trump. But VEB says that the meeting concerned Kushner’s family real-estate business.
Kushner’s SF-86 form, required for security clearance, was badly incomplete, and he has since updated it to add more than 100 names of foreign officials with whom he met but whose names he did not initially disclose. Amending the SF-86 is not uncommon, but national-security experts were boggled by the scale of Kushner’s additions, the fact that it took months to produce them, and his excuse that he had simply hit the “send” button prematurely, an alibi that doesn’t make sense for the form. It was from the updated SF-86 that the Trump legal team learned of the June 2016 meeting, which also included then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.
In the last couple of months, Trump has fired members of his administration who cause complications, from Steve Bannon to Anthony Scaramucci to Sebastian Gorka. But the reason Trump has not fired Kushner, despite the threat his tangled connections on Russia pose to the president, suggests two possibilities: One, it’s pretty tough to fire your own son-in-law, or two, Kushner is too deep into the Russia election interference, and if he goes down, Trump goes down.