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Opinion Why is anyone surprised by Jared Kushner’s latest Russia comments?

Jared Kushner at the White House on December 21. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
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Jared Kushner, who is President Trump’s son-in-law, gave an interview to Axios which is generating a lot of shock and horror. But in reality, the position to which he gave voice has been the stance of Trump and his top advisers for more than two years.

I’m talking about the position that the Russian attack on our political system — carried out for the purpose of electing Trump president — just isn’t any kind of big deal at all. The fact that Kushner’s latest version of this came as a surprise to so many people actually suggests that the true nature of this position has not been sufficiently appreciated.

Here’s the key exchange from Kushner’s interview. Axios’s Jonathan Swan asked Kushner why he didn’t “pick up the phone and call the FBI” when he received the email summoning him to the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, which held out the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton furnished by the Russian government.

Kushner engaged in a bit of bad-faith misdirection about how the meeting never resulted in anything. After which, this happened:

Swan: We’re talking about Russia here. They are a long term adversary of the United States. Decades of hostility, including spying. Does it not set off at least some alarm bell when you see an email saying that the Russian government wants to help the campaign?
Kushner: The email that I got on my I-phone at the time basically said, ‘show up at 4,’ I didn’t scroll down —
Swan: It had Russia in the subject line. . . . would you call the FBI if it happened again?
Kushner: I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals. But the reality is that we were not given anything that was salacious.

As many have pointed out, Kushner’s suggestion that he might not call the FBI if this happened again is remarkable. After all, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report documented a “sweeping and systematic” effort by Russia to interfere in our election to elect Trump, including massive cybertheft directed at one major political party and concerted, sustained efforts to exacerbate the country’s racial, ethnic and social divisions.

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But in another sense, it is important to see this moment as thoroughly unremarkable. That’s because it has been the position of the president and his top advisers — for more than two years — that the Russian attack either did not happen or just doesn’t particularly matter all that much.

Trump himself has steadily denied that the attack happened at all (though he occasionally admits it did). More recently, Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale cavalierly insisted that Russia “never” helped Trump in 2016. Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani shrugged that there’s “nothing wrong” with a campaign “taking information from the Russians.”

Even Kushner himself recently scoffed at the Russian effort as little more than “a couple of Facebook ads.”

What’s more, we know that Trump’s own view along these lines may have had a serious practical impact. It’s been extensively documented through careful reporting that Trump’s refusal to acknowledge what happened in 2016 — which appears partly rooted in his megalomaniacal unwillingness to see the greatness of his victory diminished — has hobbled efforts by those in the government who actually do want to stop another round of Russian interference from happening.

This, even though members of Trump’s own intelligence services — such as FBI director Christopher A. Wray — have sounded a loud, clanging alarm to the effect that these efforts currently pose a threat.

Kushner’s comments to Axios basically confirm what we already knew — not only does Trumpworld not think the Russian interference effort was any big deal; it would surely welcome it again.

This is not at all to downplay the importance of Swan’s interview, which was valuable and well executed. Rather, the point I’m making here is that the actual position of Trumpworld on all of this seems to rarely get portrayed for what it really is in the unvarnished way it deserves.

You saw this in the media treatment of Mueller’s remarks to reporters last week. It was widely noted that Mueller used those remarks to forcefully denounce Russia’s interference in the election, something Mueller said “deserves the attention of every American."

What wasn’t widely noted is the degree to which this absolutely laid waste to the entire story about 2016 that Trump and his top advisers have been telling for more than two years. Nor did the coverage sufficiently register what Mueller was saying about the president’s obstruction efforts. Mueller noted that Trump wasn’t merely trying to derail an investigation to protect himself from what he supposedly saw as unfair prosecution; he also tried to impede an accounting of a foreign attack on our political system, one he just happened to benefit from and eagerly encouraged.

It fittingly underscores the point that after Mueller called on every American to take the Russian effort seriously, Kushner’s reaction is to blithely suggest that if it happens again, Trumpworld very well might react the same way.

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