Trump Palace Intrigue
Reports over the past few days that Jared Kushner, President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, tried to set up secret backchannel communications with the Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in December, when he was a private citizen and Trump president-elect, have shaken Kushner's safe perch at the White House, The New York Times reports. "The Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain."
White House officials spent the weekend defending the use of back-channel diplomacy, generally, with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly telling ABC News on Sunday that "any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing." Experts outside the White House disagree, at least in this specific case. "There's no way that it can be appropriate to say, 'I want to use a hostile government's communications system to avoid our government knowing anything about it,'" Eliot Cohen, a Republican foreign policy stalwart, tells The Washington Post. Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called Sunday for a review of Kushner's security clearance because, among other reasons, he did not disclose his backchannel overtures on his application form.
The new Kushner focus in the Russian investigation has imperiled his "hard-won influence on a mercurial father-in-law who is eager to put distance between himself and a scandal that is swamping his agenda and, he believes, threatening his family," says The New York Times. "That relationship had already begun to fray a bit" due to Kushner's "repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon," Kushner's family hawking visas-for-cash in Beijing, and Kushner's counsel that firing FBI Director James Comey "would be a political 'win' that would neutralize protesting Democrats because they had called for Mr. Comey's ouster," the Times reports, citing "six West Wing aides."
Trump put out a statement on Sunday calling Kushner "a very good person" who is "doing a great job for the country," adding "I have total confidence in him." But White House aides, some of whom call him "Jared Island" because of his unique and untouchable role, say that Trump has "increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials, a rarity earlier in his administration and during the campaign." You can read more about Kushner's work-family troubles at The New York Times.