Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the leader of the United States, appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Monday where he offered an indirect defense of his reported friend Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Asked by Hannity whether the effort to contain Iran has been hurt by the slaying of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of people close to Mohammed, Kushner suggested the government would get to the bottom of the issue.
"I think our intelligence agencies are making their assessments,” Kushner said, “and we’re hoping to make sure that there’s justice brought where that should be.”
Kushner then segued into a discussion of his effort to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Hannity, of course, framed his question in terms favorable to the point he knew Kushner would want to make, emphasizing the United States had already sanctioned a number of Saudis for Khashoggi’s slaying. That group overlaps with the people identified as responsible by Saudi government — in a transparent effort to shift guilt away from Mohammed.
Since shortly after Khashoggi went missing in early October, the White House, including President Trump, has relied on that argument offered by Kushner to deflect guilt from Mohammed: We do not yet have all the details. Day after day, as new information about the killing was reported, the line was the same: We do not yet know. Kushner and Hannity were speaking hours after CNN reported on a transcript of audio from the killing that included Khashoggi’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — undercutting to some extent the idea there was still a lot of mystery about what occurred. But still: gotta wait and see.
More to the point, Hannity and Kushner were talking about a week after senators were given a classified briefing by the head of the CIA — one of those still-assessing intelligence agencies — in which they were presented with evidence sufficiently clear enough about Mohammed’s culpability that they competed to express to reporters how obvious the evidence was.
There was a “smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, evoking the bone saw reported to have been brought to the scene of the crime by Saudi assassins.
“If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). While Corker’s long been a critic of Trump, he is still a member of Trump’s party. For his part, Graham has been one of Trump’s most fervent allies on Capitol Hill in recent years. The evidence presented by CIA Director Gina Haspel was nonetheless strong enough to eliminate any question in Graham’s mind.
Kushner has certainly seen that evidence, as has Trump. It is not clear whether the CIA’s determination of Mohammed’s role is final, but there appears to be enough information included in its assessments to easily persuade members of the U.S. Senate of the crown prince’s guilt.
Concerns about Kushner’s relationship with Mohammed predate the Khashoggi killing. In March, as the prince was visiting the United States shortly after consolidating power in his home country, the Intercept reported Mohammed had told other regional leaders Kushner was “in his pocket,” a function of how closely Mohammed had drawn Kushner. The Post reported that same month on how Mohammed had tried to woo Kushner, apparently successfully. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported their friendship had included remarkable informality, including text messages back and forth.
The Times also reported “Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm” following the Khashoggi killing, “urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.”
Hours after Kushner spoke with Hannity, the distinction between the administration each serves and Khashoggi's work was brought into sharper relief as Time magazine named Khashoggi and other targeted journalists as its person of the year.
Khashoggi’s “death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U. S. alliance and — in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links — the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?” Time’s Karl Vick wrote in explaining the reason for the award.
That question alone shoves Kushner’s response to Hannity into a shadow. Who should be trusted to tell the story of the killing of a U.S.-based journalist at the hand of a foreign ally, a CIA director who can only offer evidence in a classified setting or the American equivalent of a crown prince seemingly dedicated to defending his peer? Should we trust our eyes and ears in evaluating the publicly available evidence and assertions, or should we trust what the convenient alternative the administration offers?
Kushner was not on Hannity’s show to talk about foreign policy. He was there to talk about a prison overhaul bill he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have been championing for months. Before Hannity’s question about Khashoggi, Kushner explained what the bill hoped to accomplish.
"The recidivism rate that we have is way too high, and not doing anything about that is irresponsible,” Kushner said.
One way to encourage criminal recidivism, certainly, is to do nothing about it.