Kushner gets a White House downgrade
An increasingly embattled Jared Kushner faced renewed heat over his White House role this week, after The Washington Post reported that officials in at least four countries had discussed ways they could manipulate the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser using his complex business arrangements. The revelation came just hours after it emerged that Kushner had been stripped of his top-secret security clearance. Current and former U.S. officials told the Post that China, Israel, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates discussed using the Kushner family’s vast real estate debt and Kushner’s lack of foreign policy experience as leverage against him. National security adviser H.R. McMaster reportedly learned of the conversations in his daily intelligence briefings. It was unclear whether those foreign officials acted on the discussions, but White House officials were concerned Kushner was “naïve and being tricked,” said a former aide. Kushner’s lawyer dismissed the report as “secondhand hearsay.”
Until now, Kushner was working on an interim top-secret security clearance that allowed him to access highly classified information, including the Presidential Daily Brief. His permanent clearance is currently held up amid ongoing issues with his FBI background check; Kushner has amended his application several times to include more than 100 unreported foreign contacts. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly overhauled the Trump administration’s security clearance process last week and downgraded Kushner’s and dozens of other staffers’ interim clearances from top secret to secret—a level held by more than 3.6 million Americans.
What the columnists said
Now that’s what I call “a tough day at the office,” said Andrew Egger in WeeklyStandard.com. Demoted to a secret security clearance—a notation for documents that don’t really contain any secrets—Kushner is now cut off from the most important intelligence involving his ambitious portfolio, which includes negotiating Israeli-Palestinian peace. Without that sensitive on-the-ground information, it’s hard to see how Kushner “could continue as the administration’s point man on Mideast policy.”
Kushner’s business deals make him vulnerable to manipulation, said Rick Wilson in TheDailyBeast.com. He “needs a billion dollars fast,” having bought Manhattan’s 666 Fifth Ave. for $1.8 billion in 2007, just before the recession, saddling his family’s real estate empire with debt. Foreign officials noticed this weakness: “Kushner, they whispered, is for sale.” His financial woes are now a focus of the Mueller investigation. Yet Kushner is still in the White House, said Chris Cillizza in CNN.com. Just imagine if Chelsea Clinton’s husband had the same job, and troubles, in a hypothetical Clinton administration. “Republicans would—rightly!—be going nuts.”
A storm is brewing in the White House, said Jonathan Swan in Axios.com. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump—aka “Javanka”—already have a tense relationship with Kelly, who has tried to contain their influence since becoming chief of staff. This week’s security clearance drama has pushed the situation to a breaking point. “Javanka and Kelly are locked in a death match,” said a White House source. “Two enter. Only one survives.”