As a new Washington Post report about Jared Kushner notes, it's not unusual for foreign governments to seek ways to leverage White House staff members. So the fact that at least four countries tried to do so with President Trump's son-in-law isn't a complete shock.
What's more troublesome for Kushner and the White House, though, is how much easier he might have made it.
The main disclosure of The Post's new report is that the officials from those countries — China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates — have discussed ways to manipulate Kushner. Their discussions were shared with the White House after national security adviser H.R. McMaster in spring 2017 requested all such intelligence involving White House staff members. Unsurprisingly, their efforts focused on Kushner's complicated business dealings and financial difficulties of his family's business.
But beyond that head-turning revelation are a couple of sections worth emphasizing.
The first is about Kushner's failures to run foreign contacts through official channels. We knew that the senior White House adviser had updated the foreign contacts on his security clearance form — known as an SF-86 — multiple times after initially not disclosing them, and that this could be problematic. The new report says he also did not coordinate foreign contacts through the National Security Council, which is in charge of foreign policy matters, and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been asking about the protocols Kushner used in setting up those phone calls.
That's an especially juicy subplot, because it suggests that Kushner was holding calls with foreign leaders effectively off the grid. You may recall that the Russian ambassador to the United States once told his superiors in Moscow that Kushner had sought a secret communication channel with the Kremlin.
But here's perhaps the most interesting paragraph in the whole story:
Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official.
Why on Earth would foreign officials insist on working only through Kushner? Perhaps it was a totally noncontroversial and understandable reason — such as that he was focused on their particular area of concern or that he had built relationships with them. It's also quite possible it was because he was the president's son-in-law, in addition to his senior adviser, and they thought he had more power.
A less-innocent possibility is that it was because they thought he was someone they could leverage — either via his inexperience or his financial situation. Those finances have been a focus of the Mueller investigation, including a meeting during the transition period with a Kremlin-allied Russian banker. The Kushner family bought 666 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan in 2007 for $1.8 billion, and $1.2 billion in debt is due in less than a year. It has sought investors for a redevelopment plan but has not found any.
What we know right now is that something has prevented Kushner from obtaining a permanent security clearance for more than a year, and on Tuesday we learned he and others with interim clearances would no longer be able to view top-secret materials. That's a big setback for Kushner, who has been able to read the highly sensitive President's Daily Briefing and was reluctant to give up his access.
The picture of precisely what was holding up that process is still murky. But with efforts like this lurking behind the scenes and Kushner not being especially forthcoming about his foreign contacts, it's not difficult to see why he couldn't get over the hump. Increasingly, the question would seem to be why he was even granted access this whole time if such consequential issues hadn't been resolved — and suspicions like McMaster's had been raised.