Perfect Storm Bogs Down Kushner as Netanyahu Heads to Washington

Instead of devoting his attention to an important meeting with Trump and Netanyahu, Jared Kushner has been forced to deal with seven days of disaster

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
Washington, D.C.
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U.S. President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner listen during a meeting with Lebanon's prime minister at the White House in Washington, July 25, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner listen during a meeting with Lebanon's prime minister at the White House in Washington, July 25, 2017.Credit: Bloomberg
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – On Monday, Jared Kushner will participate in an important meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will focus on the peace plan he has been working to craft for the last year.

Yet instead of devoting all of his attention to that meeting, Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, has been forced to deal with a "perfect storm" of negative media stories.

The pile-on began on Tuesday when Politico reported that Kushner has lost his access to "top secret" intelligence, as a result of a new policy implemented by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Kushner has failed to receive the permanent top security clearance for more than a year, for reasons that haven't been fully disclosed. Up until this week, though, he used a temporary clearance to regularly view some of the most sensitive intelligence produced by U.S. spy agencies – including, according to some reports, the daily presidential intelligence briefing.

Kelly's decision to close loopholes in the temporary clearance system had a direct effect on dozens, if not hundreds, of government workers in Washington – but none of them is as senior and high profile as Kushner.

Justifiably or not, many news outlets reported on the decision as if it was a personal humiliation directed at him – this despite the fact that Kelly released a statement on February 20, expressing confidence in Kushner and praising him for his work on Middle East peace and other issues.

On the same day that Kelly's clearance decision made headlines, it also became public that Kushner's trusted spokesman, Josh Raffel, will soon be leaving the White House.

Raffel was in charge of handling media contacts on behalf of the Trump administration's peace team. However, his influence in the White House was felt beyond that issue alone – he became one of the closest advisers to Kushner, his wife Ivanka Trump, and other senior officials. It was not immediately clear why he decided to leave the White House.

If those two developments weren't bad enough, the Washington Post reported last Tuesday that U.S. Intelligence officials have expressed concern about attempts by foreign countries to "manipulate" Kushner by appealing to his business interests.

The bombshell report stated that discussions about exploiting Kushner's business interests, and his inexperience on foreign policy, have been held in at least four countries: Israel, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and China. Kushner's lawyer denied the report.

The Washington Post report didn't include any concrete examples of such attempts, but the New York Times later reported that U.S. intelligence identified discussions within the UAE about the subject. The emirate’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, "has seen Mr. Kushner as a target of influence by the wealthy, influential Persian Gulf state," the report said.

The Times also noted the UAE has been influential when it comes to Kushner's main project in the White House: reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The stories that came out in the Post and the Times seemed like intentional leaks from within the administration, meant to hint to the public why Kushner had failed to achieve permanent top-secret clearance.

As a result of these leaks, a number of leading news outlets reported about increased tensions between Kushner and Kelly.

Some reports even said Kelly has been trying to get Kushner fired from his role as a White House senior adviser, while Kushner and others in the Trump family – such as the president's son, Donald Jr. – have have been fuming about Kelly's behavior.

Another report concerning Kushner, published in the New York Times on Wednesday, stated that his family's real estate firm, Kushner Companies – which he partially divested from upon entering the White House – received loans from major companies, coincidentally after representatives for those companies had important meetings in the White House.

The most prominent example was a $184 million loan from private equity firm Apollo Global Management in November, which the paper described as "a big deal," explaining that "it was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm."

The paper also reported that "an even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn." It noted that the loan "was made in the spring of 2017, shortly after Mr. Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, according to people briefed on the meeting. The two men talked about financial and trade policy and did not discuss Mr. Kushner’s family business, one person said."

The tension surrounding Kushner's work reached new heights on Friday, when the Intercept reported that the Kushner family's real estate firm tried to secure a loan from Qatar in order to finance one of its flagship projects in Manhattan – 666 Fifth Avenue.

According to the report, Kushner's father, Charles, met with a senior Qatari minister in New York and tried to secure the loan, but the Qataris refused.

Coincidentally, a few weeks later, Qatar's neighbors in the Gulf region decided to impose a blockade on the country, demanding that the tiny but rich emirate capitulate to their demands on a number of economic, political and media-related fronts. The Qataris have refused to accept those demands, and the crisis has been ongoing for over half a year now.

While some officials in the Trump administration, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have pushed for the United States to actively mediate between the sides and try to solve the conflict, Kushner has reportedly advocated a harsh line toward Qatar – aligning himself with Saudi Arabia's young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is the driving force behind the blockade.

The report in the Intercept tried to portray Kushner's alleged support for the Qatar blockade as being related to the Qatari refusal to grant a loan to Kushner Companies. NBC News then reported that the Qatari government debated on whether or not to provide materials on the subject to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is already examining some of Kushner's business activities, according to recent reports.

Mueller, it should be noted, has already expressed interest in at least one foreign policy action made by Kushner: His attempt to block the UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements in December 2016, which took place during the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations.

According to reports that came out last year, Kushner was in close touch with Israeli officials and tried to convince other countries – potentially including Russia – to vote against the anti-settlements resolution (which eventually passed overwhelmingly).

This "perfect storm" surrounding Kushner could make it even more vital for him to present some form of achievement – such as the peace plan the White House has been secretly working on for the last year.

Raffel, Kushner's departing spokesperson, denied some reports last week about the nature and contents of the plan that came out in Arab news outlets. He claimed the plan was still being worked on, and that it will benefit both the Israelis and Palestinians.

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