We should all be so lucky to have one friend in our lives as loyal as Jared Kushner is to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It’s no secret that the pair have been in regular contact since the beginning of the Trump administration. But while many inside and outside of the U.S. government have turned against the crown prince since the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the president’s son-in-law has remained steadfast in his friendship. The New York Times reported Saturday that, since Khashoggi’s murder, Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman “have continued to chat informally.” Kushner “has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.” It’s a relationship the incoming Democratic House majority can and should investigate.
That Kushner is showing such loyalty is hardly surprising, given that Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, and his advisers have worked on cultivating Kushner going back to just after the 2016 election. Documents reviewed by the Times suggest that Kushner was targeted because, as the Times put it, of his “scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel’s demands.”
In other words, MBS and company sought to exploit Kushner’s lack of expertise — an alarming prospect for anyone concerned about U.S. foreign policy.
Mohammed bin Salman has done well from the relationship. Both his ouster of his older cousin as crown prince last May and his detention of 200 wealthy Saudis were preceded by Kushner visits to Riyadh. (Both of MBS’s moves were followed with praise from President Trump.) As the evidence tying bin Salman to Khashoggi’s murder increased, Kushner “became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House,” according to the Times.
Meanwhile, it seems Kushner has little to show on his end. For example, “after proposing to marshal up to $100 billion in investments in American infrastructure, the Saudis have announced an investment of only $20 billion.” Without accomplishments to point to, Kushner has resorted to creating them: As my colleague Karen Attiah (Khashoggi’s editor) points out, Kushner pushed Defense and State Department officials to inflate the value of a U.S.-Saudi arms deal to $110 billion, even though they told Kushner that “realistically they had about $15 billion worth of deals in works.”
All of this raises the question yet again: Why does Kushner still have a security clearance? That and other questions about Kushner’s relationship with Mohammed bin Salman can be taken up by Democrats in January. In October, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, told my colleague Greg Sargent that Khashoggi’s killing “is not something we can turn our heads away from.” That’s even more true now, and Kushner’s direct advice to Mohammed bin Salman on “how to weather the storm” makes his interactions with the crown prince even more worthy of investigation. Come January, the sooner Democrats subpoena communications between the pair, the better.