Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were the golden couple destined to dazzle Washington and shape the administration of President Donald Trump. That glitter is gone, replaced by policy failures, poor judgments and ethical embarrassments.
The president’s daughter and son-in-law have not brought a contemporary generational sensibility to the White House, as they once proposed to do, and instead have created significant problems.
Kushner, devoid of government experience or diplomatic expertise, was given major foreign-policy assignments. He has made bad relations with Russia worse, and in the process has drawn the attention of the special counsel investigating links between Moscow and Trump political and business interests. He played a role in the administration’s bungled intervention in a feud between American allies in the Persian Gulf, and is in over his head in his involvement in the Mideast peace process.
As a senior White House aide, he advocated firing James Comey as FBI director, which resulted in the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. The Trump-Kushner couple advocated hiring Anthony Scaramucci, the filthy-mouthed fool who lasted 10 days as White House communications chief. Kushner was caught failing to file required financial disclosures, omitting millions of dollars of holdings and having to file dozens of amended forms. His holdings continue to pose potential conflicts of interest.
The Kushner family real estate empire has some sizable debt; right after the election the Kushners tried, unsuccessfully, to cut a deal with a Chinese investor on one of their properties. It’s not known whether there have been subsequent efforts. “The conflict is not so much what they own as to what they owe and who may be bailing them out,” said Richard Painter, the ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.
Ivanka Trump told the New York Times in May that she wanted to act as a moderating force within her father’s administration, focusing on climate change, family leave, immigration and gay and transgender rights. Since then the president has moved to the right on most of these matters.
She has generated several embarrassing situations. At the July meeting in Germany of world economic powers, she was out of place sitting in briefly for her father at a gathering of heads of state. She won trademarks for her clothing and jewelry lines in China as she was seated next to Chinese President Xi Jinping at a dinner hosted by her father in Florida. She made millions of dollars this year, while a White House aide, from her outside businesses.
“They are in a position to have enormous influence over a range of policies that affect their financial interests,” said Painter, now vice chairman of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Kushner won praise in conservative circles after he testified last month before congressional committees on his dealings with Russians last year. But questions persist, for the public and for Mueller.
One involves a June 2016 meeting with a politically connected Russian lawyer that Kushner attended with his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. and campaign manager Paul Manafort; the lawyer had promised to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
After the election, Kushner met with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak, and suggested opening a secret communications channel through the Russian embassy. He also met with a leading Moscow banker with close ties to the Kremlin. And early this year in getting national security clearance, he failed to disclose these Russian contacts.
Kushner insists that the meetings were benign and the reporting lapses honest oversights. To critics, it’s a pervasive pattern of dubious dealings with a regime that tried to interfere with the U.S. elections.
He has close ties to leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But this connection, State Department officials say, played a counterproductive role when the president publicly sided with U.A.E. and the Saudis in their feud with Qatar, where the U.S. has a strategic military presence. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are trying to straighten out the mess.
This fall, the once-golden couple is scheduled to go to China at the invitation of that government, to help plan a forthcoming presidential trip. In the past, that’s the kind of task that fell to luminaries like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
– Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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