It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jared Kushner is part of Trump’s Russia problem

Dara Lind
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) sits alongside U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (2nd L) as they prepare to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Saudi delegation at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Jared Kushner: the young, pragmatic, hardheaded businessman out to modernize the US government and moderate the worst tendencies of his father-in-law — Donald Trump.

But what if, instead, Jared is not a panacea for the chaotic White House, but one of its biggest problems?

As the Trump administration's been sent into a death spiral over the firing of FBI Director James Comey last week — a failed move to curtail the Justice Department investigation into contact between his campaign and the Russian government — Kushner hasn't been the "adult in the room" urging caution and scrupulousness. To the contrary, he's been urging aggression and retaliation.

And the White House's reaction to the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia inquiry, including a possible attempt to use ethics rules to limit the scope of his investigation, shows that somebody in the White House is deeply worried about what might happen if Kushner were included in the probe.

Inside look at Ivanka and Jared Kushner's financial holdings

As Trump deals with scandals surrounding his former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, now the family businessman could have another problem right inside his own house.

Kushner's getting mighty antsy about special counsel Robert Mueller

It was surprising enough, to people who had bought into the narrative that Kushner (and wife Ivanka Trump) were steadying influences on the president, that he hadn't warned Trump not to fire FBI director James Comey — a move that anyone could have predicted would blow up in the administration's face. (In fact, Kushner appears to have been "generally supportive" of the firing, according to the New York Times.)

By now, though, it's clear that Kushner (at least sometimes) is the person who wants to lash out at the investigators. Here's what happened (according to reports from the New York Times) when the Trump administration found out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller as a special counsel to lead the Trump/Russia probe:

Most of those gathered recommended that the president adopt a conciliatory stance and release a statement accepting Mr. Rosenstein's decision and embracing a swift investigation that would clear the cloud of suspicion hovering over the West Wing.

Mr. Kushner — who had urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey — was one of the few dissenting voices, urging the president to counterattack, according to two senior administration officials. After a brief discussion, however, calmer heads prevailed, and Mr. Trump's staff huddled over a computer just outside the Oval Office to draft the statement that was ultimately released, asserting the president's innocence and determination to move on.

Trump's eventual statement was actually much less conciliatory than prior presidents have been. Yet Kushner wanted it to be even harsher — despite the existing concerns about independence at the Department of Justice.

It's also interesting that, according to Reuters' Julia Edwards Ainsley, the White House is considering trying to hobble Mueller — using a regulation barring Mueller from investigating anyone his former law firm had represented. In practice, that would be Kushner and former campaign head Paul Manafort.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

For all the reporting that President Trump is still deeply committed to Mike Flynn, this proposed "solution" to the Mueller investigation wouldn't protect Flynn. It would protect Manafort, who has been out of the Trump family's orbit for quite some time. And it would protect Kushner.

Kushner's closely connected to Mike Flynn — and fairly connected to Russia

What could Kushner be so worried about?

He does appear to have been relatively close to the disgraced Flynn. According to at least one report (from NBC News' Peter Alexander), he and Ivanka Trump were the ones who assured Flynn he could get the job of National Security Advisor — at a meeting at Trump Tower after the election, Alexander said, Ivanka Trump and Kushner told Flynn that his "loyalty" to the family would be rewarded.


Kushner also accompanied Flynn to his meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period — part of the pattern of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that Flynn subsequently lost his job for lying about. Kushner, however, also arranged subsequent meetings with Kislyak and other Russian officials — and the White House didn't disclose those at the time, either.

Kushner's meetings with Russian officials were enough to bring him onto the radar of the Senate Intelligence Committee's Trump/Russia probe, which is questioning all Trumpworld figures who had contacts with Russia. And his failure to disclose all of those meetings — evenwhen applying for a security clearance — has raised some eyebrows (Democratic Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) has called for Kushner's clearance to be stripped.)

At least one figure within the Trump White House saw Kushner's contacts with Russia as a disaster waiting to happen for the administration: Steve Bannon. During a power struggle between Kushner and Bannon in early April, the Times reported that "Mr. Bannon has told confidants that he believes Mr. Kushner's contact with Russians, and his expected testimony before Congress on the subject, will become a major distraction for the White House."

Kushner won the power struggle. Perhaps Bannon's warnings about Kushner and Russia were discarded as just an attempt to weaken a rival (which, in part, they almost certainly were). But in retrospect, it's becoming clear that Bannon wasn't wrong.

The idea that Kushner was some sort of moderating influence on Donald Trump was always more than a little overblown — there was never much evidence that Trump was being moderated. What's becoming clear, though, is that Kushner isn't just incapable of stopping the president's intemperance or preventing his ethical lapses and that he's not simply a businessman trying to maximize his own profits, either.

If Kushner has, or is, a Russia problem, that means that the current investigations go to the beating family heart of the Trump White House. That could set up a very, very nasty fight indeed.

Commentary by Dara Lind, edit staff at Vox.

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