Kushner moves to Trump margins
UNITED STATES: He was once the power behind the throne, Donald Trump’s most influential adviser. But Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, now finds himself on the margins, fighting for relevance.
The 37-year-old scion of a New York property dynasty is up against two much older and tougher figures hardened in the US Marine Corps and public service.
On one front, he faces special counsel Robert Mueller, 73, who was wounded and honoured for his gallantry as a marine platoon commander in Vietnam before a legal career as a prosecutor crowned by 12 years as director of the FBI.
On the other, he is locked in a fierce confrontation with the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, 67, a former Marine Corps general who views Kushner as callow and meddling.
It is not the only battle roiling the Trump team. A Republican close to the administration said: ‘‘It’s chaos in the White House, a daily Game of Thrones in which no alliance is permanent and noone knows where the axe will fall next or who will bludgeon who.’’
Kushner has struggled to fend off Mueller. Every aspect of his contacts with Russians and his financial dealings with foreigners is being investigated. He has been fined for not turning over financial disclosure forms on time and criticised for failing to include all his assets. The sprawling investigation has meant that Kushner’s security clearance has been held up for more than a year.
He has an unpaid role as ‘‘senior adviser to the president’’. His portfolio runs from criminal justice reform to Middle East negotiations. As a top foreign policy adviser, he receives the highly classified presidential daily brief, presented by the CIA director. He has been able to access the US government’s most sensitive secrets, thanks to an interim security clearance, but that is due to lapse after a crackdown by Kelly.
White House sources have said Kushner might leave the Trump administration if he has to endure the humiliation of being blocked from seeing classified material. He and his wife, Ivanka, have struggled to settle in Washington and have long contemplated a return to Manhattan.
They were described by American GQ magazine last week as having ‘‘lost a good deal of their lustre since the early days of the Trump administration’’. Relegating the couple to just 37 in its list of the top 50 most influential people in Washington - one place above Vladimir Putin - the magazine commented: ‘‘Even the president is said to have worried about the beating the young pair, especially his beloved daughter, have taken in the press for their screw-ups and failures.’’
There have been indications that Trump himself has lost some confidence in Kushner, who recommended last May that the president should fire the FBI director, James Comey. Trump’s sacking of Comey triggered the appointment of Mueller as special counsel to look into allegations of collusion with Russia. Steve Bannon - Trump’s former chief strategist, and himself a victim of the White House wars - described it as possibly the biggest mistake ‘‘maybe in modern political history’’.
Last week, Trump praised his son-in-law as ‘‘truly outstanding’’ and ‘‘very successful when he was in the private sector’’ but pointedly declined to intervene to grant him a permanent security clearance, which is a presidential power. ‘‘That will be up to General Kelly,’’ he said. ‘‘He respects Jared a lot, and he’ll make that call. I won’t make that call.’’
Yet Kelly is also fighting to keep his job. Speculation is rife that he might resign or be fired - even as Mueller’s investigation threatens to engulf Trump’s presidency.
On Saturday, Rick Gates, a former senior official on the Trump election campaign indicted by Mueller, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. He is expected to give evidence against his former boss Paul Manafort, 68, who was one of Trump’s campaign managers. Both had extensive dealings with Russian-backed figures in Ukraine. The prosecutors last week outlined a ‘‘scheme’’ in which the pair allegedly laundered 30 million, failed to pay taxes for almost a decade and fraudulently secured more than $20m in loans.
A senior former US justice department official told The Sunday Times that Mueller’s plan was that a plea deal with Gates would help force Manafort to cooperate and to testify against Trump himself. Mueller has no power to charge the president, but if the Democrats win back control of the House of Representatives in November’s mid-term elections Trump may well face impeachment proceedings. - Sunday Times