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Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner

 

  • Senior Adviser to the President (2017-  )

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Jared Kushner is the son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump. After Trump was elected, Kushner became the president’s “senior adviser.”

Despite his lack of experience in government and politics, Trump put Kushner in charge of an extensive list of initiatives. As one journalist described it, some ten weeks into Trump’s presidency, “The 36-year-old senior adviser … has been tasked by his father-in-law to solve some of the world’s most complex and confounding political problems domestically and abroad. He’s taken on those tasks while also emerging as both a shadow secretary of state and point man for cleaning up Trump’s gaffes.”

Specific tasks Trump assigned to Kushner included: Middle East peace efforts; government reform; management of the government’s program to deal with widespread addiction to opioids; criminal justice reform; liaison to Mexico; liaison to China; and liaison to the Muslim community.[1]

Kushner never took on any significant role in battling the opioid crisis or reforming the government. He took no steps to liaise with the Muslim community and his dealings with Mexico and China were opaque, raising questions of whether he was working as a government official or to advance his own business interests.[2] Over time, his portfolio diminished, and Kushner began focusing on the Middle East, working with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as well as helping to lead efforts to come up with a “Trump plan” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Questions about Competence

From the earliest days of his tenure, many in the administration, in the Washington policy community, and in the media raised concerns about Kushner’s competence for his position and the tasks Trump had given him. These concerns intersected with questions about Kushner’s role in his father-in-law’s campaign and contacts with Russian oligarchs and officials.

In June 2017, the special counsel investigating Russia’s tampering with the 2016 election questioned Kushner and he was subsequently called before the Senate to testify. His pleas of ignorance may have allowed him to dodge responsibility for the questionable contacts with Russia, but they reinforced concerns about his fitness for his job.

For example, at a meeting with Russian interlocutors set up by Donald Trump, Jr. to allegedly receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton, Kushner claimed not to understand why the subject of a Russian ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children was under discussion.

As the Guardian reported, Kushner was “apparently unaware that the adoption ban is extensively used by Russian emissaries as a euphemism for US sanctions imposed on Russia. The subject of sanctions is central to modern diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

The Guardian also reported, “Substantially more serious than Kushner’s apparent lack of understanding on sanctions was the similar naivety … that he showed in his dealings with [Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey] Kislyak and a prominent Russian banker. When the ambassador told him that senior Russian generals wanted to talk to Kushner to discuss policy on Syria, Trump’s son-in-law inquired about using an “existing communications channel” at the Russian embassy. The suggestion was made during the transition period when Trump and all members of his inner circle were still ordinary citizens outside government. Kushner appears to have been unaware that setting up such a private line of contact with senior Russian military leaders could have violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers.”[3]

Early in Trump’s second year in office, Kushner saw his security clearance—which was, at that time, still provisional due to his failure to disclose contacts with foreign entities—scaled back, raising questions about whether he could access the information he needed to deal with foreign governments. Although Trump eventually intervened to restore his son-in-law’s clearance, Kushner’s image suffered from the process, and the mistrust of him within the administration grew considerably.[4]

Part of the reason Kushner saw his security clearance downgraded was that U.S. intelligence reports noted that at least four countries– reportedly including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, Israel, and Mexico—had discussed ways in which they could manipulate the inexperienced adviser. According to a Washington Post report, “Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was ‘naive and being tricked’ in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official.”

The UAE had some leverage with Kushner because of the debts he and his family owed on his properties. It was unclear whether any of the countries had acted in any way to manipulate Kushner, but it was enough for then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster to address Kushner’s uncoordinated contacts with foreign officials directly with him.[5]

Kushner needed top-secret clearance to work on high-level negotiations in the Persian Gulf and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his various entanglements were significant obstacles. In early 2019, the New York Times reported that in May 2018 White House counsel Don McGahn and chief of staff John Kelly both recommended against granting Kushner that clearance, but President Trump overrode them and granted it under his personal authority. Although this was his prerogative, it is unusual for a president to overrule his chief counsellors in security matters, and Trump publicly insisted shortly after doing it that he had not interfered in the clearance process in any way.[6]

As Trump’s second year in office wound to a close, these issues pushed Kushner out of public view for the most part. His work appeared to largely narrow to working on Middle East peace, working on a purported “peace plan” for Israel and the Palestinians, and maintaining a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Kushner and the Persian Gulf

Although Trump had piled many portfolios on Kushner in the early days of his administration, it was clear from the outset that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was going to be a top priority. According to a report from May 2017, just days before Trump made his first official visit to Saudi Arabia, Kushner “began building ties to members of the Saudi royal family during the transition. He was at the table when his father-in-law hosted the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at a lunch in the State Dining Room in March”[7]

That early connection was based on a purported $110 billion sale of weapons that Kushner worked out with the Saudi royal family. This massive sale became a long-term talking point for President Trump, one he used whenever criticism of the Saudi government called the relationship between the two countries into question.

Yet, even though Trump often inflated the figure to as high as $450 billion and spoke of “hundreds of thousands of American jobs” created because of it, the reality of the agreement was much humbler.

Bruce Riedel—Director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution and a former C.I.A. officer—called the claims of the deal’s size spurious. “There is no $110 billion deal,” stated Riedel. “Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them ‘intended sales.’ None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.”[8]

In October 2017, Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh and met again with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (often referred to as s“MBS”). A week later, a bizarre sequence of events ensued, where the Saudi leadership summoned Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh where he announced his resignation, claiming he could not function in the role due to the overwhelming influence of Hezbollah in his government. Days later, Hariri was back in Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.

Many observers believed the episode was a failed attempt by MBS to orchestrate a political conflict in Lebanon, a country with a fragile governing structure that had led to internal conflict several times before. The proximity to Kushner’s trip led to speculation—denied by the White House—that Kushner had given MBS the green light for the operation.[9]

Another report for The Intercept suggested that Kushner had given MBS a list of key Saudi opponents of the crown prince. The people Kushner named were among those that Saudi royal forces rounded up and imprisoned in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton hotel the following week. MBS reportedly bragged shortly after the episode that he had “Kushner in his pocket.”

It was not the first time that Kushner had worked on his own with the crown prince. The previous summer, when Saudi Arabia launched its blockade against Qatar, then-U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson tried to mediate the dispute between the two Gulf nations, but he found himself undercut by Trump and Kushner—both supporing the aggressive move against Qatar—who were communicating with the Saudi leadership on their own without coordinating with their diplomatic corps.

A deal to bail out a midtown Manhattan office building owned by the Kushner family that was in grave debt had fallen apart after Qatar rejected the arrangement as financially unviable. This led some to speculate that Kushner’s and Trump’s passionate support for the Saudis in their dispute with Qatar grew out of the Kushner’s interest in Qatari financing. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said, “We could not understand why the Trump administration was so firmly taking the Saudis’ side in this dispute between the Saudis, the Emiratis, and Qatar, because the United States has very important interests in Qatar. If the reason this administration put U.S. troops at risk in Qatar was to protect the Kushners’ financial interests, then that’s all the evidence you need to make some big changes in the White House.”[10]

In May 2018 Qatar agreed to invest in the Kushners’ property.[11] The Saudi blockade remained in place, but Qatar had found ways to minimize its impact, and the Saudis—in contrast to the earlier days of the blockade—did not move to counter those adjustments.[12]

Kushner and Mideast Peace

Trump came into office with lofty ambitions for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, much as his predecessors had for decades. His Middle East peace team consisted of the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Trump’s representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Kushner. Prospects seemed grim for this team, as they all have ties to the Israeli rightwing. Friedman is a major donor to a U.S. non-profit that supports the West Bank settlement of Beit El, just north of Jerusalem;[13]Greenblatt studied at a Jewish religious seminary in the West Bank;[14] and Kushner’s family has donated large sums many times over the years to Israeli causes, including West Bank settlements.[15]

Kushner did little to instill confidence in any peace plan with his determination to gut services to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provided food, shelter, clothes, education, medical care, and other forms of support to Palestinian refugees in the region. Leaked emails revealed his animosity toward the agency. “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace,” Kushner wrote in an email addressed to several senior officials, including Greenblatt.

Kushner asked Jordan to strip the two million Palestinian refugees living in that country of their status as refugees, which would transfer responsibility for them from UNRWA to Jordan, with the Trump administration pressing Gulf Arab states to help the Jordanians with the cost of absorbing them. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said that Kushner determined that “the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing. … They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer.” Other Palestinian leaders made similar comments, positioning Kushner in opposition to the Palestinian leadership.[16] In August 2018 the Trump administration terminated all funding for UNRWA.[17]

Trump administration officials repeated several times during Trump’s first two years in office that the unveiling of their Middle East peace plan was imminent, but they kept delaying the announcement. By March 2019, the plan was still under wraps, but the administration said they would finally announce their plan shortly after the Israeli elections on 9 April 2019.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, stated that “The relationship between Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman constitutes the foundation of the Trump policy not just toward Saudi Arabia but toward the region,” and that this relationship meant that the administration would be relying on Saudi Arabia to promote the peace plan. A Saudi-centric approach had long been favored by Israel, and several statements from MBS—indicating that he would be comfortable with greater concessions to Israel than the official Saudi position, embodied in the 2002 Saudi peace plan[18]—meant that Israel was even more inclined to have the Saudis play a central role, while the Palestinians were warier.[19]

Kushner and the rest of the administration remained vague about the details of the plan, hoping to keep them under wraps until they were ready to make them public. But rumors leaked about the plan’s contents, alienating Palestinians who were already angry about the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, its indifference to Israeli settlement expansion, and its stance that the vast majority of Palestinian refugees—those who were born into refugee status, rather than having been directly displaced in 1948—should not be considered refugees.

Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat stated of the rumored plan, “They are telling us ‘peace based on the truth.’ The Kushner truth and the Netanyahu truth is that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, no right of return to refugees, settlements are legal, no Palestinian state on 1967 [borders] and Gaza must be separated from the West Bank and this is absolutely unacceptable.”[20]

In February 2019, Israeli media reported that Kushner had flatly stated that the 2002 Saudi peace plan was not part of the U.S. proposal. “I think it was a great initiative, in 2002 when it was done, but it hasn’t produced peace,” he reportedly said. This represented a major break from the policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.[21]

In a February 2019 interview on Sky News Arabia, Kushner offered a small glimpse of the U.S. proposal. He said the plan would focus on drawing the borders between Israel and the Palestinians but stopped short of saying that the U.S. would propose a Palestinian state. He stated that the plan envisioned a united Palestinian leadership over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that “the pillars of the plan will be freedom, dignity, security and economic prosperity.”[22] Kushner was vague about political arrangements but raised concerns by saying, “The goal of resolving these borders is really to eliminate the borders. If you can eliminate borders and have peace and less fear of terror, you could have freer flow of goods, freer flow of people and that would create a lot more opportunities.”

At that time, Kushner had embarked on a trip with numerous stops in the Middle East to try to sell the plan, one which U.S. allies in both the Mideast and Europe were skeptical about. Much of that skepticism arose from the decision by the Trump team to keep the details secret not only from media but from their foreign allies. This led to European fears that they would not be able to support elements of the plan and Arab concerns that they would be relied on to fund projects that they either felt were not financially feasible or were too politically dangerous.[23]

Reports indicated that the plan would involve investments in the tens of billions of dollars in not only the West Bank and Gaza, but also surrounding countries that house Palestinians, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. Indyk voiced the concerns of many, stating, “It’s going to be a very hard sell politically as well as economically. If the bargain is we’ll put in $65 billion so you Palestinians and Arabs will back off your political demands for an independent state based on ’67 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, I don’t think they’re going to raise the money to pay for it. The whole proposition appears to be based on false assumptions.” Saudi King Salman—who, by this time, was increasing his presence around this issue, which many took as a sign that he felt his son, MBS, was not handling it well—shared similar sentiments, stating that Saudi Arabia “permanently stands by Palestine and its people’s right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”[24]

 

 

 

[1] Maxwell Tani, “Here are all the duties Jared Kushner has in the Trump administration,” Business Insider, April 5, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-jared-kushner-do-in-trump-administration-2017-4

[2] Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey, “Kushner’s overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage,” Washington Post, February 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/kushners-overseas-contacts-raise-concerns-as-foreign-officials-seek-leverage/2018/02/27/16bbc052-18c3-11e8-942d-16a950029788_story.html?utm_term=.4e0821067b84

[3] Ed Pilkington, “Jared Kushner’s explanations on Russia reveal a man wholly unsuited to his job,” The Guardian, July 24, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/24/jared-kushner-ignorant-trump-russia-senate-intelligence

[4] Kevin Breuninger, “Jared Kushner got his permanent security clearance, but he could still be under scrutiny,” CNBC, May 24, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/24/kushners-permanent-security-clearance-doesnt-mean-hes-in-the-clear.html

[5] Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey, “Kushner’s overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage,” Washington Post, February 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/kushners-overseas-contacts-raise-concerns-as-foreign-officials-seek-leverage/2018/02/27/16bbc052-18c3-11e8-942d-16a950029788_story.html?utm_term=.4e0821067b84

[6] Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman, and Annie Karni, “Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance,” New York Times, February 28, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/us/politics/jared-kushner-security-clearance.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

[7] Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, and Matt Apuzzo, “$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch,” New York Times, May 18, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/world/middleeast/jared-kushner-saudi-arabia-arms-deal-lockheed.html

[8] Bruce Riedel, “The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news,” Brookings, June 5, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2017/06/05/the-110-billion-arms-deal-to-saudi-arabia-is-fake-news/

[9] JTA Staff and Ron Kampeas, “5 Key Moments in the Bromance Between Kushner and the Saudi Crown Prince,” Haaretz, October 13, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/5-key-moments-in-the-bromance-between-kushner-and-the-saudi-crown-prince-1.6552209

[10] Alex Emmons, Ryan Grim, and Clayton Swisher, “Saudi Crown Prince Boasted That Jared Kushner Was ‘In His Pocket,’” The Intercept, March 21, 2018, https://theintercept.com/2018/03/21/jared-kushner-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman/

[11] Charles V. Bagli and Jesse Drucker, “Kushners Near Deal With Qatar-Linked Company for Troubled Tower,” New York Times, May 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/17/nyregion/kushner-deal-qatar-666-5th.html

[12] Ben Hubbard, “That Punishing Blockade? ‘We’ve Moved On,’ Qatar Says,” New York Times, December 29, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/world/middleeast/qatar-blockade-goods.html

[13] Alon Bernstein, “In Beit El, Trump’s Israel envoy pick a well-known figure,” Times of Israel, February 17, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-beit-el-trumps-israel-envoy-pick-a-well-known-figure/

[14] Daniel Estrin, “A Look At Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Envoy For Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” National Public Radio, July 12, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/07/12/536782026/a-look-at-jason-greenblatt-trumps-envoy-for-israeli-palestinian-peace

[15] Annie Karni, “Jared Kushner’s Mission Impossible,” Politico, February 11, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/jared-kushners-mission-impossible-214770

[16] Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer, “Trump and Allies Seek End to Refugee Status for Millions of Palestinians,” Foreign Policy, February 11, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/jared-kushners-mission-impossible-214770

[17] Hady Amr, “In one move, Trump eliminated US funding for UNRWA and the US role as Mideast peacemaker,” Brookings, September 7, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/09/07/in-one-move-trump-eliminated-us-funding-for-unrwa-and-the-us-role-as-mideast-peacemaker/

[18] Anne Barnard, David Halbfinger, and Peter Baker, “Talk of a Peace Plan That Snubs Palestinians Roils Middle East,” New York Times, December 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/world/middleeast/palestinian-saudi-peace-plan.html?module=inline

[19] David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler, and Mark Mazzetti, “The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House,” New York Times, December 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/world/middleeast/saudi-mbs-jared-kushner.html

[20] Reuters in Jericho, “US has no plan for Middle East peace, says senior Palestinian,” Guardian, UK, September 15, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/15/palestine-israel-us-peace-plan-saeb-erekat

[21] Tovah Lazaroff, “Jared Kushner Says Trump Peace Plan Won’t Include Saudi Initiative,” Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Netanyahu-says-he-looks-forward-to-receiving-Trumps-peace-plan-580682

[22] Barak Ravid, “Kushner says Middle East peace plan focuses on ‘drawing the borders,’” Axios, February 25, 2019, https://www.axios.com/kushner-israeli-palestinian-peace-plan-to-focus-on-drawing-borders-4028abc9-7bb5-4d4e-b542-5d78bff34f14.html

[23] Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood, Kevin Liptak, “Kushner readies for spring launch of US Middle East peace plan,” CNN, February 16, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/16/politics/kushner-mideast-peace-plan/index.html

[24] Peter Baker, “Kushner on Mideast Tour to Promote Investment Plan as Part of a Path Toward Peace,” New York Times, February 26, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/26/us/politics/kushner-middle-east-peace.html

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Jared Kushner Résumé

BUSINESS

  • Kushner Properties: CEO (2006-2017)
  • New York Observer: Publisher (2006-2017)

GOVERNMENT

  • Senior Adviser to the President (2017-  )
  • Office of American Innovation: Director (2017-  )

EDUCATION

  • Harvard University: B.A. in Government (2003)
  • New York University: MBA, JD (2007)

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