For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump's most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I'm speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.
The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about "his damn election" didn't exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?
As it turns out Trump's actually a yuuuge believer in taking vacations. He has been to his Florida resort seven times already (at taxpayer expense) and last weekend the White House tried to pretend the president was having meetings at his Virginia golf club. It was later revealed that he was hitting the links again.
So it's not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; yesterday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives." If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we're in for a bumpy ride. As Salon's Simon Maloy observed:
Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.
And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father's New Jersey real estate business and, well, that's about it.
Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner's father in jail for corruption (it's a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building's finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it's a good thing that we've decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn't corruption — or that might look bad.
Kushner's new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he's even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a "SWAT team" of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that's required. It's surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.
On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that "throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up." That's correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president's primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.
This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. We also learned on Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign, has asked to speak to Kushner about his meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador. Apparently there was more than one, including a meeting previously unacknowledged by the Trump administration with a Russian banker named Sergey N. Gorkov, head of the state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, which just happens to be one of the Russian banks facing U.S. sanctions. (Gorkov is reportedly close to Vladimir Putin and graduated from what was formerly the KGB academy.)
At the time of those meetings, Kushner had not sold his interest in the Manhattan building to his family and The New York Times reported that the committee wants to know whether Kushner spoke to Gorkov about potentially helping him with his financial problems. According to Reuters, Kushner met with representatives of the bank earlier in 2016 as well, which raises still more questions. Whatever the substance of the conversations, the whole thing carries the stench of a conflict of interest.
That Kushner wouldn't understand this and would hold such meetings after numerous news reports and government acknowledgments about Russian intervention in the election campaign shows such astonishingly poor judgment that it makes one shudder to think what he may have said and done in his role in the transition and now in the administration.
I cannot help but be reminded of a comment from a State Department employee:
They think Jared can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.
The United States is not a developing country. It is supposedly the world's only superpower. Can't we do better than this?