It’s hard to find someone with as many portfolios as Jared Kushner in Washington. The young upstart has not only been tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East (a fireman dousing some flames with propane comes to mind), but also serves as Director of the Office of American Innovation, and Senior Adviser to the President (his father-in-law). For a 36-year-old whose experience in government and bureaucracy has been limited to a faltering real estate career (much of it kept afloat by borrowing money from George Soros and other donors) and a half-hearted attempt at newspaper publishing, this is impressive. The problem is that it may have been a bridge too far.
The American public are, generally speaking, quite used to nepotism at the highest levels. After the Clintons, the Bush family, Rupert Murdoch and other figures, they seem to be largely indifferent to networks of patriarchy, tribalism and family loyalty. But these people have conducted their questionably ethical affairs with something that Kushner hasn’t – foresight, and a slight sense of shame.
Rupert Murdoch rarely steps out of the shadows, preferring to harass and bully governments and subordinates alike from behind the scenes, occasionally stepping out into the light to defend his name due to some controversy or other (or post a little rant on Twitter). George Bush and George Bush snr never went out of their way to present their presidencies as intrinsically linked to family ties. Hillary Clinton, while always being pictured alongside her husband (and using his name to gain political clout) has always tried to portray herself as very much her own woman.
All this is lost on Kushner. He greedily grabbed any portfolio that Trump was perfectly willing to thrust into his hands (the president doesn’t like reading or anything strenuous, exercise included). He eagerly sat in on key meetings between Trump and officials domestic and foreign, silently staring at the participants with a disconcerting intensity and yet saying nothing; the elephant in the room which subtlety was completely lost on.
He was perfectly happy to be pictured strolling beside Trump and his daughter Ivanka (his long-time wife) talking in hushed tones into Trump’s ear – a shameless flaunting of Trump family nepotism in front of the media. He swaggered around Iraq in a bulletproof vest and sunglasses as if he was some kind of kosher, hairless Rambo. In short, he derisively paraded his titles and complete lack of merit in America’s face.
Americans would maybe have been less offended by Kushner’s sense of entitlement and undeserved status if he had actually bothered to speak to them publicly or make himself seem at least accessible to journalists and media outlets. Instead, Kushner went out of his way never to give speeches or interviews, seldom talks to journalists and has rarely been caught on film actually speaking. To Americans, not only had Kushner snapped up jobs that could have gone to more experienced candidates, but he didn’t even have the good grace to present himself to them. It was as if they simply weren’t worth his time.
To make matters worse, he also behaved in a high-handed and arrogant manner towards Trump’s acolytes, no matter how powerful, based on the assumption that his status as Trump’s son-in-law made him unassailable. Who cares about his ostensible equals? As long as he has Trump’s ear, he can be as rude as he pleases to them, right? Wrong.
He used his influence to get Trump to push Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon out of the National Security Council, getting his father-in-law to denounce him in front of the media in April. This is while knowing that Bannon remains the de-facto leader of Breitbart News, the far-right network that had been the platform for Trump’s loyalest and most fanatical supporters, from the Alt-Right to advocates of jailing Hillary Clinton.
Bannon is not to be trifled with – when threatened, he can not only use this vast media network to attack his opponent, but use his unique knowledge as an insider to leak damaging information – which he has done. According to numerous sources, Bannon has been leaking damaging information on Kushner to the media in order to get back at him. Note the huge uptick of humiliating exposes on Kushner’s contacts with the Russians.
Kushner also seems to have gone after Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff. Despite often having been at odds with Bannon, this has backfired spectacularly. Although Priebus was rumoured to be on his way out as well, once April had passed his job was secure – and now he’s engaged in a rather disconcerting dalliance with Bannon. The two reportedly even sat together murmuring and planning during The Donald’s birthday celebrations in what an anonymous insider called a “grotesque bromance”.
For Capital Hill Republicans (and establishment Republicans in general) Bannon’s anti-establishment, openly fascist rabble-rousing is terrifying. On the other hand, Priebus is seen as the semi-respectable, smart-suited, polished face of establishment conservatism. Yet the two have been pushed into an alliance – partially a result of Kushner’s strategic bungling. When reports of Priebus’s imminent dismissal began to surface as early as February, a “livid” Bannon personally called a reporter to rage at him over the leak, having one of his infamous meltdowns.
Kushner’s ability to alienate the public and top officials alike has been made no better by the nauseating stupidity with which he conducts himself while attempting to be discreet. In December he sneakily met with Sergey Gorkov, head of Russia’s state-owned VneshEconomBank – which has played a critical role in trying to circumnavigate US sanctions to reel in more capital for Putin. Gorkov has been closely linked to Russian intelligence into the bargain; he actually graduated from the FSB academy.
When rumbled, Kushner attempted to explain it away as one of the many normal duties of a transition team. Gorkov himself dropped Kushner even deeper in the awful mess by declaring that the meeting was business-related, and specifically related to Kushner Companies, Kushner’s family firm. This resulted in speculation that Kushner had agreed to have his failing business bailed out by Russia in return for furthering Russian interests in the United States. Kushner’s response? Have a lawyer put out a statement claiming that omitting this from his security clearance form was a mere “oversight“.
Regardless of the purpose of the meeting, be it shady dealings or something more innocuous, Kushner should have known that as a powerful, high-profile figure in an upcoming US administration, he would be monitored by US intelligence and such contacts would be documented. He should also have known that Russian officials and high-profile figures in the US are constantly subject to surveillance, including ambassador Kislyak; a 5-year-old could find this out by doing a quick search on Google.
To add foolishness to mind-boggling idiocy, Kushner failed to disclose this contact on his security clearance form, and also met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in Trump Tower on December 1 or 2. During that meeting, with a high-level Russian official known to be heavily monitored, he proposed establishing a “secret and secure communications channel” with the Kremlin, which would use Russian diplomatic facilities to avoid surveillance by the CIA or any other US intelligence agency. It was ostensibly to discuss matters related to the Syrian conflict – although why this would warrant discussion so early on is unknown. Kushner has yet to give his reasons.
The inexplicable naivety boggles the mind; does Kushner not know that all Russian diplomatic buildings are monitored? Does he not know that the communications between Moscow and the Russian embassy are intercepted by American agents? But just as importantly, did he not realise that, if this were made public, his determined attempts to talk to the Russians in a manner that would prevent his own nation’s intelligence agencies from listening in to his conversations would strongly imply that he has something treasonous to hide? If this came out (which it did) it could be ruinous to his father-in-law and his own career.
Kushner proceeded anyway, apparently oblivious, and his message to Kislyak was relayed by the ambassador back to Moscow. It was directly intercepted on the way. Even Kislyak was taken aback by the absurdity of the request.
A combination of arrogance, nepotism, undeserved status and incompetence has made Jared Kushner into one of the most intensely disliked figures of the Trump administration, and maybe Washington itself. Nothing reveals the extreme disdain and lack of respect for Kushner more than the scorn and indifference that even some high-profile Jews have shown towards him, and allowed the media to show towards him.
His co-religionist power brokers in America’s corridors of state are well known for sticking together, even if they sometimes squabble. Kushner’s amateurish efforts and flaunting of his ill-deserved status so publicly seem to have alienated some influential Jews, always eager to keep their community out of the spotlight and avoid the attention of Americans being drawn to their powerful influence on the government and the media.
When Jewish figures have come under scrutiny in the past (often due to legitimate concerns) the Jewish lobby has been quick to use its media influence to smear their detractors as anti-Semites and their grievances irrelevant. With Kushner, they seem content to let him be exposed, mocked and derided. Even if they’ll never allow media outlets to mention his faith or their influence, they seem perfectly content to allow them to “roast” him. Henry Kissinger himself actually seemed to make fun of Kushner in April, writing him a letter of recommendation damning him with ever-so-faint praise.
He wasn’t alone. When Kushner spoke yesterday at the inaugural American Technology Council meeting (partly an attempt at damage control) media outlets directed a frenzy of scorn and mockery at Kushner’s unusually high voice, even going so far as to compile compilations of some of the most amusing Twitter reactions to his shrill drawling.
Jared has drawn unwanted attention to Jewish privilege; many confused Americans looking for answers as to why on earth he’s even there in the first place have started to lean towards his religious orientation. The Zionist lobby has seemingly gone into damage control mode and allowed attacks on Kushner clan, albeit attacks that avoid all mention of his background. A Haaretz columnist even called him “dangerous”, basically for drawing unwanted attention to Jewish ascent in America. Instead of defending Kushner, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein merely put out a muted statement urging Americans to “exercise caution” when it comes to anonymous sources – Bannon?
For now, Kushner has retained all his influential positions. How sustainable they are, given the daily build-up of anger, resentment and indignant scrutiny, is less certain. Not only has he drawn the ire of the public, his co-workers and powerful Jewish voices, but his business dealings are now being closely investigated.