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Jared Kushner’s very bad week, explained

In the past 36 hours, we’ve learned foreign governments don’t think highly of him, his security clearance was downgraded, and a New York banking regulator is looking into his loans.

Jared Kushner Interviewed By Senate Intelligence Cmte In Closed Session Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Jared Kushner’s past 36 hours could make someone miss Manhattan’s cutthroat real estate market. Things aren’t going well for the investor and real estate businessman turned presidential adviser. (For that matter, it’s not looking great for his wife, Ivanka Trump, either.)

First, Kushner’s security clearance — which after more than a year in the White House still hasn’t been made permanent — was downgraded, and he breached ethics rules in a campaign statement. He is reportedly in a standoff with Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Then the Washington Post reported on Tuesday evening that officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they might be able to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his business arrangements, financial difficulties, and lack of foreign policy experience, citing current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports.

Some in the White House are reportedly worried Kushner was “naïve and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, Shane Harris, Carol Leonnig, Greg Jaffe, and Josh Dawsey wrote for the Post, some of whom only want to deal with him instead of more experienced professionals.

On top of all that, on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that the New York Department of Financial Services, the state’s banking regulator, has asked Deutsche Bank and two local lenders — Signature Bank and New York Community Bank — to provide information about their relationships with Kushner, his family, and the family business, including emails and communications related to denied and pending financing requests.

Here’s what happened over the past couple of days for the president’s son-in-law, assistant, and senior adviser — who is also a key player in the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Foreign countries reportedly think they can use Kushner’s business ties — and debts — to their advantage

Per the Post’s Tuesday report, officials from the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico have discussed ways to influence Kushner to their advantage. While it isn’t uncommon for foreign governments to try to figure out ways they can influence senior officials, Kushner’s complex set of business arrangements and foreign entanglements — combined with his lack of experience in politics — has always been a concern in the White House. And his behavior while in office has reportedly been even more alarming.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was reportedly taken aback by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts and surprised to learn he had contacts with foreign officials that he hadn’t coordinated through the National Security Council or officially reported.

“When he learned about it, it surprised him,” one official told the Post. “He thought it was weird. … It was an unusual thing. I don’t know that any White House has done it this way before.” McMaster and Kushner have since coordinated so the National Security Council is aware of his contacts.

Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly has also asked about the protocols Kushner used when setting up conversations with foreign leaders.

Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies, his family’s real estate business, after Trump’s election, but the business remains in his family, and in 2016 he ran it and helped oversee the Trump campaign at the same time.

The company in 2007 bought a building at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York under his direction for $1.8 billion, and after the building became troubled in the recession, it was left with $1.2 billion in debt that comes due in January 2019. According to the Post, Kushner and the company have explored several options for financing to help keep the building above water, including in China and Qatar. Kushner also discussed financing with a Russian banker in December 2016.

Kushner Companies has stressed that the Fifth Avenue building is a small fraction of its assets and that it is financially sound. According to the company’s website, it did more than $2.5 billion in transactions in 2017.

Kushner’s top-secret security clearance was rescinded

Kushner and several other White House aides were informed in a memo on Friday that their interim security clearances would be downgraded from top-secret/SCI-level (sensitive compartmented information) to secret level, according to a report from Politico on Tuesday. Reuters also reported that Kushner has lost access to the president’s daily briefing, a daily digest of intelligence updates.

The news comes days after Chief of Staff Kelly announced plans to overhaul the Trump administration’s security clearance process for staff in a February 16 memo in the wake of the Rob Porter scandal.

Kushner has not been granted a permanent security clearance. Perhaps part of the reason is that he has repeatedly made amendments to forms detailing his contacts with foreign officials and financial assets. He’s also claimed to have forgotten vital information in his dealings with Congress and the ongoing Russia probe.

Finally, he is reportedly under scrutiny from the FBI, which is conducting his background investigation, due to his complicated financial ties and the fact that he failed to disclose more than 100 foreign contacts on his initial clearance application.

President Trump has the ability to grant Kushner a permanent clearance but said on Friday he would leave the decision up to Kelly. “I have no doubt he’ll make the right decision,” Trump told reporters.

Kushner has an impossibly broad portfolio at the White House, including updating the federal government’s technology systems, handling diplomacy in China and Mexico, reforming the criminal justice system, crafting an opioid abuse strategy, and negotiating peace in the Middle East. His security clearance downgrade probably won’t help him do his job.

Kushner might have violated the Hatch Act

Trump’s 2020 campaign sort of relaunched itself on Tuesday and announced that Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital strategy in 2016, had been named manager of his reelection campaign. In a press release announcing the decision was a statement from Kushner, named as a senior adviser and assistant to the president, complimenting Parscale for his “leadership and expertise” that would “help build a best-in-class campaign.”

Some observers cried foul.

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel alleging that Kushner violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their official titles in political work. Kushner’s statement, which could be considered a political endorsement, included his official White House job title.

A version of the press release announcing the Parscale pick posted on the Trump campaign’s website later removed Kushner’s White House title, identifying him only as President Trump’s son-in-law.

Ivanka’s having a tough time too

It hasn’t been a great week for Kushner or his wife, Ivanka Trump, for that matter. Trump has come under fire in recent days for saying it might be a good idea for teachers to have guns in schools and that she doesn’t believe the more than a dozen women who have accused her father of sexual harassment and assault.

Her tendency to toggle between apolitical first daughter and acting as a bona fide political figure at her convenience has been on full display, as she reportedly also briefed South Korea on new North Korean sanctions while attending the Olympics.

To make matters worse, top White House aide Josh Raffel, who is considered a close ally of both Kushner and Trump, is leaving the White House in the coming months. And according to a report from Axios on Wednesday, Jared and Ivanka are locked in a “death match” with Kelly.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen and Rachel Wolfe put it, Jared Kushner is having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” ... er, days.