“This Is the New War”: Jared Kushner, Amid a Showdown with Kelly, Prepares for Battle with a Weekend in the Caribbean
“You’re going to have a showdown on the 23rd,” one person close to the White House told me Monday afternoon, presaging a potential skirmish between John Kelly, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior aide. Kelly has alienated supporters within the West Wing over his handling of the Rob Porter scandal.
And last Friday, when Kelly issued a memo outlining changes to the White House security-clearance protocol in the post-Porter era, people around the White House wondered whether Kushner may be one of them. Effective this coming Friday, February 23, Kelly has announced that White House employees without a permanent security clearance, whose applications have been pending since June 1—a category that includes Kushner—will no longer be issued an interim clearance.
(Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney, has noted that it is “not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration” and said that “no concerns were raised” about his client’s application.)
Initially, some saw it as a calculated move.
As The Washington Post reported last week, Kelly has been irked by Kushner’s access to high-level information without a permanent clearance, and was well aware of the fact that his new policy could put up a roadblock for the First Son-in-Law, who had been jokingly referred to as “the Secretary of Everything.” The person close to the White House described the interplay in all its delicacy: “You have Jared, who’s been floating ideas of who his father-in-law will replace Kelly with, on one side; and Kelly, who’s basically saying, ‘Fuck you, Jared.
’” A source familiar with Kushner’s thinking said that he does not blame anyone for the memo and does not feel like he has been unfairly targeted. “Does he feel like it raises a lot of questions that need to be answered? Yes.
” (The source disputed reports that Kushner and his wife, fellow White House aide Ivanka Trump, have pushed for Kelly’s ouster, saying the two have been privately supportive of the chief of staff and have vocally stood up to his critics.)
By Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to answer some of those questions at the press briefing.
“No decision within the memo will impact anything that Jared Kushner is working on,” she said, adding that “nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work Jared is doing.”
The memo is another setback for a White House again consumed by chaos.
While Trump attempted to roll out his second so-called Infrastructure Week, last week, his administration was consumed by the ongoing Porter scandal, Scott Pruitt’s latest airline hijinks, and news that Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin had the government foot the bill for a personal travel concierge and his wife’s expenses on a 10-day Euro trip last summer, which included a stop at Wimbledon. The fallout from l’affaire Stormy Daniels also continued as The New Yorker published an account of another Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump around the same time.
This was all subsumed, of course, by the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people lost their lives, Trump’s refusal to mention guns in his speech after the massacre, and the students’ moving effort to petition lawmakers about gun violence. The week capped off with special counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for interference in the 2016 presidential election, just as President Trump headed out for a three-day weekend at his private club in Palm Beach with his adult sons, Don Jr.
So set off a weekend of hysterical tweeting, even by Trumpian standards.
Trump stated that Russians were “laughing their asses off” because they so clearly succeeded in sowing the chaos they’d set out to create; he blamed Democrats and President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russian interference; he referred to a member of Congress as a “monster”; and he accused the F.B.
But as Trump melted down at Mar-a-Lago, and the administration reeled from one of the most dismal weeks in 13 months, Kushner and Ivanka weren’t in the country. According to two people familiar with their travel plans, the senior aides took a holiday in the sun, enjoying the long weekend in the Caribbean.
The Trump-Kushners have a history of skipping town during rough patches. When the Trump campaign languished in the summer of 2016, they jetted off to David Geffen’s yacht in Croatia with their friend Wendi Deng.
’s so-called “summer camp for billionaires” in Sun Valley in July, just before Kushner answered questions from congressional investigators probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. A month later, they took a Trump Organization helicopter to Vermont, for a two-day getaway at a ritzy hotel in the midst of the Charlottesville debacle.
The optics of flying off for a holiday in the Caribbean come at a particularly tenuous time for Kushner. He returned from the sandy beaches as CNN broke the story that Mueller has been asking questions about his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition.
(Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, discarded the report, saying that in all of his client’s cooperation with inquirers, there has not been a single question asked or document sought about Kushner Co. deals.