Washington, United States | AFP | Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner faced little scrutiny on his way to becoming one of America’s most powerful people. But now a row over White House security clearances is pushing the president’s publicity-shy favorite into unwelcome limelight.
Unlike his can’t-get-enough-exposure father-in-law, Kushner is a discreet presence.
He’s virtually a ghost on social media, where he has 77,000 Twitter followers but doesn’t tweet.
And in the White House, he may be a fixture at high-level meetings, but he’ll rarely speak if the press corps is present, waiting until journalists leave the room.
So it was a measure of the White House’s need for damage control that Kushner went on the Trump go-to channel Fox News late Monday to dismiss concerns over his security access.
“I’ve been accused of all different types of things, and all of those things have turned out to be false. We’ve had a lot of crazy accusations,” Kushner said on Fox’s “The Ingraham Angle.”
Controversy over Kushner’s access to top secrets has been brewing since the start of the Trump presidency. After all, he was a relatively unknown quantity in Washington — a man with no political or diplomatic experience, or previous vetting, but a ton of potentially tangled business dealings at home and abroad.
This week the issue blew up when a veteran White House bureaucrat told Congress that her department had been overruled by higher-ups to grant passes to 25 people initially rejected due to worries over conflicts of interest, foreign influence and personal problems.
Among the names that the Democrat-led congressional committee investigating the issue suggests may be on that list: Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump.
– Riches to power –
Kushner was just another privileged New York business scion until his father-in-law and fellow real estate dealer unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016.
The change of address to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2017 catapulted him into the smallest of presidential inner circles.
Kushner’s title in the Trump administration is a vague “senior advisor.”
In reality, the youthful-looking 38-year-old, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009, has the president’s ear on everything from US drug addiction to selling Saudi Arabia weapons.
An Orthodox Jew who is part of what Trump proudly calls the “most pro-Israeli” US government in history, Kushner is also tasked with presenting a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Generations of seasoned US diplomats have already failed there and expectations are low that Kushner’s as yet hidden plan will do better.
With Ivanka Trump also tagged as an adviser to her father, critics say the White House has sunken into the kind of nepotism few would have thought possible anymore.
“Not since JFK — more than 50 years ago — have family members of the president served in policy positions,” Mark Carl Rom, associate politics professor at Georgetown University, said.
“The Trump presidency is a throwback: he is making America 18th century again.”
– Everything ‘turned to gold’ –
Naturally, Trump does not see things that way.
He seems not only to rely heavily on Kushner but genuinely to like and appreciate him.
At a big event Monday celebrating prison reform — an issue Kushner says he was inspired to work on due to seeing his own father serve 14 months behind bars for financial crimes — Trump singled out his son-in-law for lavish praise.
“You know,” Trump told the audience in the ornate East Room, “Jared has had a very easy life. He was doing phenomenally in New York and everything he touched has turned to gold.”
“Then, one day, he said,’I want to come down and I want to have peace in the Middle East. And I want to do criminal justice reform. And I want to do all these wonderful things.'”
Finally, the punchline: “And his life became extremely complex.”
In a presidency defined by all-out fights with the opposition Democrats, accusations of administrative chaos, and the morass of the Russia collusion investigation, Trump is believed to value Kushner and his daughter as among the few people he knows he can always rely on.
That’s understandable but will depending on family bring Trump more trouble down the road?
“The question is: Is their primary loyalty to the constitution of the United States of America, or to their father?” Rom asked.