Opinion

Jared Kushner's presence in the White House is a national scandal

Forget Donald Trump Jr. It's Kushner who has the president's ear, and that's dangerous.

Donald Trump Jr. is clearly in way over his head. The president's oldest son quite suddenly became the primary focus of the rapidly metastasizing Russia scandal thanks to a series of New York Times reports detailing his previously undisclosed June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney who was shopping damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Each of the junior Trump's public statements asserting the innocuous nature of the meeting were quickly undermined by freshly reported details, including last night's news that Donald Jr. was informed via email prior to the meeting that the Russians were trying to help his father win the White House.

This all looks pretty bad for the president's namesake. He's now been caught lying several times about a meeting he previously insisted never happened, and he was reportedly aware that he was inserting himself and his father's campaign into a foreign power's scheme to tilt the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. At each step of this process, Donald Jr. has demonstrated an almost comical lack of intelligence and absolutely zero instinct for self-preservation.

But as bad as that all is, a still worse scandal surrounds another attendee of that June 2016 meeting: President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Donald Jr., for all his bumbling and incriminating behavior, is still a private citizen with no direct influence over public policy. Kushner, however, is a high-powered official in the White House, and he has consistently withheld information about his ties to an adversarial government.

Kushner's name has already popped up several times in the context of the Russia investigation. In May it was revealed that Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had met with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. with the hope of setting up some ill-conceived backchannel communication between Moscow and the Trump presidential transition team. Kushner also met during the transition with the CEO of a bank with close ties to the Kremlin. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly digging into Kushner's financial ties to Russia, and Democrats in Congress are demanding to know why Kushner did not disclose his meetings with Russian officials when applying for his security clearance.

And now we learn that Kushner went with Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a Russian lawyer who was looking to offload some opposition research on Hillary Clinton. In the previous two instances in which Kushner was caught failing to disclose his meetings with Russians, the administration argued (implausibly) that he was simply performing routine diplomatic work as a member of the presidential transition. Kushner's lawyers insisted (again, implausibly) that his failure to disclose these meetings on his security clearance applications was merely an oversight. As the Times reported over the weekend, government officials only recently became aware of the June 2016 meeting after Kushner filed updated versions of his security forms.

The problem with all this is that Kushner, a senior White House official with access to top secret information and the ear of the president, certainly appears to be badly compromised. It's suspicious enough that the president's son-in-law just happened to "forget" all these meetings he had with Russian officials, but his presence at the June 2016 meeting places him in direct proximity to a foreign power's covert effort to influence the presidential campaign.

It fractures credulity to argue that Kushner agreed to go to that meeting without knowing what its true purpose was. If Donald Trump Jr. knew ahead of time that the Russians were peddling opposition research on Clinton to try and throw the election to his father, then one has to assume that Kushner knew as well. And given the fact that Kushner has already been caught hiding his contacts with Russia, you have to wonder what else he's hiding, and who else knows that he's hiding it.

This is not a trivial consideration — a similar pattern of dishonesty led directly to the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Flynn lied about his contacts with Russian officials, which led the Justice Department to warn the White House that Flynn had left himself open to Russian blackmail. Eventually Flynn became just too toxic politically and Trump reluctantly got rid of him.

Kushner, however, continues to enjoy the full faith and confidence of his father-in-law, which means he remains privy to state secrets even though he hasn't been anything close to honest in disclosing his contacts with Russia. That's the real scandal, and it's a dangerous one.

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