Russia Investigation Elevates Jared Kushner's Previously Low Profile
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When President Trump chose to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, he did it against the wishes of his daughter. Ivanka Trump had pushed hard for her father to stay in the deal. Her husband, Jared Kushner, who is one of the president's top advisers, was described as neutral. That's Jared Kushner's preferred posture in the White House.
But recently, the investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election has reached Kushner and it has blown his low profile, as NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In public at the White House, Jared Kushner is a quiet, constant presence. At almost every public event with the president, he's in the background - pale skin, small smile, skinny tie. He's seen but not usually heard, except on rare occasions such as the day after the inauguration when he inadvertently wandered into a CBS live shot.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jared, welcome to CBS This Morning.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah (laughter). Jared, your first interview.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is your first interview on CBS This Morning.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Jared, tell us about the walk on the Mall last night with your wife.
JARED KUSHNER: Beautiful, great company and beautiful scenery.
LIASSON: That's the only time most Americans have ever heard Kushner speak. In that way, he's the opposite of Donald Trump. But in other ways, the two have much in common. Like his father-in-law, Kushner is the scion of a wealthy New York real estate family. And like Donald Trump, Kushner took his family business to new heights, investing in iconic Manhattan properties and buying a newspaper.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Jared is a very successful real estate person, but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate. I must tell you. And he's very good at politics, so...
LIASSON: So Trump has given Kushner a vast portfolio. He's in charge of relations with Canada, Mexico and China. He runs a reinventing government project called the Office of American Innovation. And he's responsible for Middle East peace.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: He is so great. If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.
LIASSON: There was a widely held belief that Kushner, formerly a liberal Democrat, would try to move his father-in-law to the center on key issues. But White House aides say that was never the way Kushner saw his job. Like Trump, Kushner has a family first philosophy. Instead of pushing an ideology, he sees his role as helping his father-in-law enact his own agenda. Tim O'Brien is a Trump biographer who Trump once sued unsuccessfully for libel.
TIM O'BRIEN: The president trusts him because he's also a family member, and that's I think in the context of Trump's longstanding lack of trust in almost anyone who's not family. The issue, however, is not whether the trust is merited but whether or not he has the expertise to be doing everything that Trump has given him to do.
LIASSON: In private, some White House aides are critical of Kushner, complaining about his two family ski trips in the last four months and questioning whether he has the right skill set to carry out all his duties. But he has plenty of defenders, including former speaker of the house and occasional Trump adviser Newt Gingrich.
NEWT GINGRICH: Jared's great strength is that he calmly and methodically thinks through problems, figures out solutions and implements them. And he understands the goals that his father-in-law has. And at times, he actually has a better solution than Trump does.
LIASSON: But at times, Kushner has miscalculated. He pushed his father-in-law to fire FBI director James Comey but didn't seem to anticipate the fierce backlash that ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that intercepted communications revealed that in a December meeting with the Russian ambassador, Kushner asked to set up a private communications channel to Moscow using secure Russian communications equipment. Days later, there was another meeting between Kushner and the head of a Russian state-owned bank with ties to Russian intelligence. According to a White House statement, Kushner was acting, quote, "in his capacity as a transition official." That's not how the Russian bank described the meeting. Instead of diplomacy, the bank said the meeting was business outreach to a real estate executive.
There's no indication that Kushner is a target of a criminal probe. Kushner's lawyers say he's willing to talk to Congress or any other inquiry. But regardless of the outcome, Jared Kushner has now brought the Russia investigation very close to the president himself. Tim O'Brien.
O'BRIEN: It brings it into the Oval Office. And if you bring investigators into all of those myriad conversations as they begin to probe whether or not Jared Kushner crossed some lines, I think it could be really problematic for the president.
LIASSON: A White House aide says despite the controversy, Kushner's portfolio and daily schedule remain unchanged. President Trump recently issued a statement saying he has, quote, "total confidence in Jared." Kushner remains the president's closest adviser and one whose family ties means he cannot be fired. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story states that Jared Kushner “pushed” his father-in-law -- President Trump -- to fire FBI Director James Comey. In fact, Kushner supported the firing but did not push for it, according to a person familiar with the situation.]
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Correction June 5, 2017
This story states that Jared Kushner "pushed" his father-in-law — President Trump — to fire FBI Director James Comey. In fact, Kushner supported the firing but did not push for it, according to a person familiar with the situation.