Earlier this summer, a small group of lawyers for President Donald Trump felt Jared Kushner should leave the administration.
They were that worried Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser could pose legal problems for the president as investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election grow, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The lawyers had reason for concern: Kushner met with multiple Russians during the election, including in December separately with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Gorkov, a banker with direct ties to Vladimir Putin. Kushner also attended the now-infamous June 9, 2016, meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Kushner admitted to these meetings in a July 24 statement but denies he colluded with Russians to help Trump win the election. “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government, Kushner said. “I had no improper contacts.”
Not all of Trump’s lawyers thought removing Kushner was a good idea, though. “I didn’t agree with that view at all. I thought it was absurd,” John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer for the Russia probe as of July, told the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s former top Russia investigation lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, denies that such discussions ever took place. “I never discussed with other lawyers for the president that Jared Kushner should step down from his position at the White House, I never recommended to the president that Mr. Kushner should step down from that position and I am not aware that any other lawyers for the President made any such recommendation either,” Kasowitz said in a statement.
But it appears Trump knew about the recommendation. According to the Journal, some of the lawyers met with the president in June to discuss Kushner’s departure. After the meeting, White House press staffers even drafted a statement to explain why Kushner stepped down. Trump ultimately rejected the proposal, evidently because the lawyers didn’t convince him that Kushner did anything to merit his firing.
This news is striking because of how important Kushner is to the administration. Not only does he have the familial ties, but he’s also in charge of a sprawling portfolio that includes changing the way the federal government works to forging peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Kushner has led discussions with other foreign governments as well, most notably China. An administration source told Politico in February that Kushner acted as a “shadow secretary of state.”
But that Kushner’s job was in jeopardy — even for a little while — shows no one in Trumpworld is safe from the Russia probes.
Kushner brought some of this upon himself
The proposal to remove Kushner didn’t come out of nowhere.
The Russia investigations — especially the one led by special counsel Robert Mueller that can bring criminal charges against members of Trump’s inner circle — view Kushner as person of interest. They continue to look into his relationships with Kremlin-linked officials.
But Kushner has done himself no favors along the way. In his December meeting with Kislyak, Kushner and the ambassador discussed creating a secure communications backchannel between the White House and the Kremlin.
There are also reports that Kushner advised Trump he should fire former FBI Director James Comey — a decision that former top White House strategist Steve Bannon called the worst mistake in “modern political history.” The president admitted he removed the former FBI director because of his handling of the Russia investigation. It was after firing Comey that Mueller was asked to look into Trump’s possible obstruction of justice.
On July 12, the New York Times reported that Kushner updated his security clearance form three separate times to reflect how many foreign contacts he actually has. Kushner added at least 100 contacts — including adding Veselnitskaya to the list after the revelation of their meeting — even though the first clearance form he submitted in January didn’t include any names, which his lawyer said was a mistake. This in part led Democrats to call for Kushner’s top-secret security clearance to be revoked.
Kushner spoke privately with investigators in both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on July 24 and 25, respectively. Those investigations don’t have the same authority as Mueller’s and are looking more broadly at Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Both Republicans and Democrats said Kushner was cooperative during the interviews. And as of now there is no public evidence to suggest he colluded with Russians.
This may be why one of Trump’s lawyers, Ty Cobb, thinks the push to remove Kushner was personally motivated. “Those whose agendas were and remain focused on sabotaging him and his family for misguided personal reasons are no longer around,” Cobb told the Washington Post. “All clandestine efforts to undermine him never gained traction.”
Cobb didn’t say who those “motivated” people might be.