As a deeply indebted political neophyte, Jared Kushner has had no business serving in the White House. But since he's the husband of Donald Trump's favorite child, Ivanka, Kushner has been at the heart of Trump's operation since he began his short political career. Now, it's starting to look like he may soon be forced out of his role as a top-level counselor to the president.
While serving as Trump's advisor-in-law has made his position more secure than say, Steve Bannon or Reince Priebus, Kushner's lack of background in politics was his weak spot. Beyond the fact that his inexperience and debt make him vulnerable to manipulation by foreign governments, Kushner also does not have a political tribe to guard his back the way that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders does with Christian nationalists or budget director Mick Mulvaney does with the Freedom Caucus.
The closest thing that Kushner has had to a political group was the bevy of New York finance types and former Trump business employees who Trump brought into the White House with him.
Unfortunately for Kushner, though, this group seems to be thinning out.
Former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell has already returned to Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the top White House economic adviser, has been eying the exit for some time. After getting overruled on tariffs this week, he's even more eager Politico reported Thursday.
The New York faction of the administration has also shrunk with the forced departure of staff secretary Rob Porter amid accusations of domestic violence. Communications director Hope Hicks, Porter's ex-girlfriend and a close Kushner ally, has announced her imminent departure. Josh Raffel, a former spokesman for Kushner when the two were in the private sector, will also be leaving.
One person who was supposed to be a reliable Kushner ally was White House chief of staff John Kelly. Both Kushner and Ivanka, commonly referred to as "Javanka" in the West Wing, gave Kelly critical support when he assumed his post in late July of last year and vowed to be a much tougher manager than his predecessor, Reince Priebus.
It became evident soon, however, that Kelly, a former four-star Marine general, couldn't figure out just what Kushner was supposed to be doing. Under Priebus, he had essentially been allowed to do whatever he wanted: chat up CEOs, hold private meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state, negotiate policy with Mexico, and a host of other things.
By the end of September, Trump began privately asking senior White House staffers if he thought that his daughter and her husband could survive the high-pressure situation. Kushner's situation took a significant turn for the worse after word got out that Kelly, Trump, and Priebus had allowed Kushner and a host of other White House officials to keep their jobs even after they had been unable to be granted permanent top-level security credentials. The advisor-in-law's situation was even more embarrassing in light of the fact that he had failed to disclose hundreds of contacts with foreign investors and government heads on his security clearance request forms.
Aware that the exception granted to Kushner was making Trump look weak on national security, Kelly revoked the interim clearances that Kushner and others had been operating under for over a year, a flagrant violation of typical procedure.
Further complicating things for Kushner has been the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into Russian influence operations during the 2016 presidential election. Kushner's willingness to meet with a Russian woman suspected of being a Kremlin intermediary who he thought was offering "dirt" on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is one of several points of interest to special prosecutor Robert Mueller. DOJ authorities have also been trying to get details on Kushner's attempts to hold private discussions with Russia and other countries before Trump had been sworn in as president.
That prosecutorial interest has cast a pall over Kushner's ability to operate within the West Wing, several news organizations have reported in recent days.
“Some of his administration colleagues are just more reluctant to have conversations with him or in his company because they’re not sure if he’s a witness or a target of the Mueller investigation,” a White House official told the Washington Post.
Things have gotten so bad for Kushner that even the Wall Street Journal, the mouthpiece of Trump's top media ally, Rupert Murdoch, is calling for him to resign his position.
"The long knives are out for Mr. Kushner, and they’ll keep slashing," the paper editorialized on Wednesday. "While Mr. Kushner has other policy portfolios, such as prison reform, his value as a formal White House adviser will be diminished. ... Giving up their White House positions would be a bitter remedy, but Mr. Kushner and first daughter Ivanka could still offer advice as outsiders."
This week's news that Trump has already hired his 2020 campaign manager, his former social media strategist Brad Parscale, provided a possible means for Kushner to make his White House exit while saving face. During Trump's 2016 campaign, most hiring decisions were effectively under the control of Kushner. With Parscale officially in his position, why not have Kushner move out to work with him?
However the Kushner situation gets resolved, it will need to be soon.
“This was predictable from the get-go,” Leon Panetta, former president Bill Clinton's chief of staff told the Post. “Under the best of circumstances, these are tough jobs. But when you now add to that list family members who have no clear-cut role, no experience, no real understanding of the rules and a host of financial connections and business dealings that can obviously be used to manipulate you, then that is a prescription for the kind of chaos you’re seeing in the White House.”
According to NBC News, Trump is getting so upset with the present state of affairs that he seems to have raged himself into announcing a steel and aluminum trade war. Instead of being the product of a careful deliberation, the policy seems to have been the product of the president being "unglued" over Kushner's scandals.
"There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by Ross's team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House," the network's Stephanie Ruhle and Peter Alexander reported today.