Jared Kushner is the senior White House adviser who is now a significant person of interest in a federal law enforcement investigation of Russian election meddling, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The Post reported last Friday that a high-ranking member of President Trump's staff was a target of the probe but did not identify the aide.
The fact that it is Kushner, rather than another top aide such as Stephen K. Bannon, Reince Priebus or Kellyanne Conway, is significant for the president — by which I mean worse. Kushner is family; he is the husband of Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and the father of Trump's grandchildren. If the investigation were to reveal anything incriminating, it would be far more difficult to scapegoat Kushner than almost anyone else.
I should emphasize, as Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous did in Thursday's report, that “The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.”
Plan A for Team Trump will be to argue that there was nothing inappropriate about the contact Kushner had with Russia's ambassador to the United States and executives from a Russian bank that was hit with sanctions by the Obama administration. But what is Plan B, in the event that the probe shows otherwise?
Under normal circumstances, the backup strategy would be to look for the closest speeding bus. We've already witnessed Trump's willingness to turn on people who appear to be liabilities.
Recall that the president initially stood up for his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and informal adviser, Roger Stone, after the New York Times and CNN reported in February that those two men were among several Trump associates who were in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials throughout the election. At a news conference, Trump called Manafort “a respected man.”
“He said that he has absolutely nothing to do — and never has — with Russia,” the president told reporters, referring to Manafort. “And he said that very forcefully.”
Stone, the president added, “said he never spoke to Russia; never received a call. Look at his phone records.”
That was Plan A: Tell everyone that there was no unseemly activity. As the investigation has accelerated, however, Trump has gone to Plan B.
His press secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters in March that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” That's cold — and also inaccurate, since Manafort worked on the campaign for five months and ran the entire operation for a while.
Stone has repeatedly told journalists that he and Trump remain in touch, but the president now wants to quash any appearance of coziness. He tweeted this month that he has not spoken with Stone “in a long time.”
Remember, also, the way Trump created distance last month between himself and Bannon, who previously appeared to wield unmatched influence in the West Wing.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told the New York Post. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve.”
If you become a problem, Trump will freeze you out. That's the pattern. But what if your name is Jared Kushner? The president would be in a much, much tougher position.