It is apparently legal for the president’s son-in-law to serve as a top White House adviser. But that is not a grant of immunity.
By The Editorial Board – The New York Times
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For President Trump, the era of congressional oversight is shaping up to be a family affair, with his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — at risk of getting swept up in multiple investigations. But none of the Trump clan may face a more thorough going-over than Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House adviser.
Mr. Kushner this week was among a long list of Trumpworld intimates asked to provide documents to the House Judiciary Committee as it looks into possible presidential misdeeds.
This request landed just as the continuing tussle was heating up between Mr. Kushner and the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is examining claims that Mr. Trump arranged to have his son-in-law granted top-secret security clearance over the objections of intelligence officials.
In both cases, the White House has signaled its intent to defy Congress, arguing executive privilege and legislative overreach. On Monday, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a letter to the oversight committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, rebuffing his request and effectively daring him to start issuing subpoenas. Mr. Cummings said he would confer with colleagues to determine what comes next.
However Democrats proceed, Mr. Kushner’s peculiar role in his father-in-law’s White House has prompted widespread concern that is both broader and more specific than the generic questions of accountability and competence often raised by raw nepotism.
Unease about Mr. Kushner’s access to secret information appears to go beyond politics. Mr. Trump’s own intelligence officials are said to have balked at the idea of giving his son-in-law such access, as did Donald McGahn during his stint as White House counsel.
These were not casual, offhand objections. After the president made his decision, Mr. McGahn was reportedly so troubled that he wrote an internal memo detailing the concerns about Mr. Kushner — including from the C.I.A. — and making clear that he had recommended against the move.
John Kelly, at that time the White House chief of staff, is said to have felt similarly moved to write a memo stating that he had been explicitly “ordered” by the president to grant Mr. Kushner’s clearance.
If true, this is yet another point on which Mr. Trump has misled the public, insisting in January that he had played no role in arranging his son-in-law’s clearance. Just last month, Ivanka Trump made a similar claim, asserting that her father “had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.”
Those untruths are nowhere near as troubling as the fact that intelligence and administration officials were reportedly loath to grant Mr. Kushner access to the government’s deepest secrets.
What was the C.I.A.’s specific hesitation concerning Mr. Kushner and top-secret information? Why does the agency continue to deny him access to “sensitive compartmentalized information”? Why did the F.B.I. raise questions about foreign influence over Mr. Kushner?
As The Times reported last month:
“The full scope of intelligence officials’ concerns about Mr. Kushner is not known. But the clearance had been held up in part over questions from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. about his foreign and business contacts, including those related to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the events.”
Mr. Kushner’s inaccurate statements to the F.B.I. about his foreign interactions are cause for additional concern.
And many, many eyebrows have been raised over Mr. Kushner’s special friendship with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia — a coziness strategically and aggressively cultivated by the Saudis. Out of fear that Mr. Kushner, naïve in the ways of diplomacy and foreign affairs, was susceptible to manipulation by the prince, Mr. Kelly attempted to curtail the two men’s private talks by reinstating a requirement that National Security Council officials participate in calls with foreign leaders.
No matter: Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed’s bond grew, even withstanding the conclusion by American intelligence agencies that the prince ordered the torture and murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Amid global outrage over the killing, Mr. Kushner has been among the prince’s fiercest defenders.
Mr. Kushner is not a low-level White House functionary. He has been charged with bringing peace to the Middle East, and he is the president’s star emissary to the Saudi government. The public has a compelling interest in knowing what made the intelligence community so nervous about him.
Paul Krugman did explanatory journalism before it was cool, moving from a career as a world-class economist to writing hard-hitting opinion columns.
Putting a member of the president’s family in the investigatory hot seat is a delicate business. Voters can get squeamish watching a politician’s wife or daughter or son-in-law field tough questions. That’s no excuse for letting them avoid accountability.
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