Each week, the “Can He Do That?” podcast explores critical questions about what today’s news means for our nation and its highest office. Listen here.
If you look back at the history of U.S. presidential families, you'll discover a surprising pattern: Nepotism, it turns out, is something of an American tradition.
The Kennedys did it. So did the Carters, the Fords, the Roosevelts, the Hayeses. Even George Washington employed his stepson during the Revolutionary War.
“Right from the beginning, children are involved and very much a part of what's going on,” said Doug Wead, a presidential historian and former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush.
“They're sometimes irreverent and unimpressed with you,” Wead said of presidential children. “And they will speak the truth. Most people around you are quickly corrupted by the power that comes to you as a president. So the opinions of children are cherished.”
On this week's episode of “Can He Do That,” we're talking about the role of presidential family members who serve in the White House — and specifically about Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and embattled senior adviser.
Kushner's outsize role in the Trump administration has undergone significant scrutiny in recent weeks. It came to light that Kushner and several other staffers have been working without permanent security clearances since the beginning of the administration — a major point of concern, considering that Kushner was privy to top-secret information and intelligence briefings.
After that, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly downgraded security clearance for Kushner and others who had been using interim permissions. Then The Washington Post reported that the governments of four countries have strategized on how they could manipulate Kushner “by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” And, according to the New York Times, Kushner’s family business received $500 million in loans from companies whose executives had previously met with Kushner in the White House.
Some people are questioning whether Kushner should be on the White House staff at all.
That's a question we brought up with Carol Leonnig, a Post investigative journalist reporting on some of this past month's biggest Kushner-related news.
“I think that this lays bare how unusual the situation is to have your daughter and your son-in-law inside your White House as very senior aides,” Leonnig said. “It creates a lot of delicate conversations. And in the White House, you should be able to be the chief of staff and be incredibly blunt and make quick decisions, helping the president on behalf of the country.”
“If you're dancing around a problem with the security clearance because the person is related by blood and marriage to the president,” Leonnig added, “that's going to create a problem.”