Trump’s ‘moderator’ Kushner faces full force of probe into Russia links

President's son-in-law agrees to answer questions


In June 1974, with his presidency entering a calamitous nose dive, Richard Nixon headed to the Middle East in a desperate bid to cast himself in the role as peace-maker and distract attention from his mounting domestic woes.

Mr Nixon’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel brought neither peace nor respite: six weeks later, he was forced to resign.

That Donald Trump — similarly beset by allegations of obstructing justice and talk of impeachment — should have chosen the Middle East for his first foreign visit thus has a certain neat symmetry.

By the time of his resignation, Mr Nixon had, of course, already sacrificed many of his closest aides in a futile bid to save his own skin. Mr Trump, who let his National Security Adviser go less than one month after his inauguration, can be expected to follow suit. But this White House blame-game may be played with a unique twist given the President’s propensity to appoint family members to positions in his administration.

Jared Kushner will no doubt take some satisfaction that Mr Trump’s Middle East trip passed off largely without incident. Mr Trump’s son-in-law — whose ever-expanding portfolio includes helping to broker the “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians — was said to have been heavily involved in planning the trip.

However, Mr Kushner will probably have been just as glad as Mr Trump to escape the headlines back home. Late last week, the president’s senior adviser was named in the media as a “person of interest” in the ongoing probe into ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin - and on Friday announced he would be co-operating with investigators.

That Mr Kushner may have become enmeshed in the investigation is not entirely surprising: in April he admitted that he had failed to disclose contacts with foreign officials, including a conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and a meeting with the head of a state-owned Russian bank which is subject to US sanctions. (The revelation that Mike Flynn had lied about contacts with Mr Kislyak during the transition cost the former National Security Adviser his job). The Senate Intelligence Committee has already served notice that it wants to question Mr Kushner about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. The White House has defended the president’s son-in-law by suggesting the meetings were simply routine diplomatic encounters.

Nonetheless, Mr Kushner is the only person allegedly caught up in the investigations who is currently serving in the administration. Moreover, US media pointed to the fact that Mr Kushner — normally seen as a moderating force on his father-in-law — appeared to have taken an aggressive stance in Oval Office conversations about the Russia investigation. He is reported not only to have backed the firing of the former FBI Director, James Comey, but also to have urged a counter-attack when the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to lead the probe.

Mr Kushner’s arch-enemy, chief strategist Steve Bannon, was also said to have suggested last month that contacts between the president’s son-in-law and Russia, and his likely testimony before Congress, threaten to become “a major distraction” for the White House.

However, in the court of King Donald, allegiances are ever-shifting. Mr Kushner is reported by Vanity Fair to have turned last week to New Jersey governor Chris Christie for advice on whether Mr Trump should hire a lawyer. Mr Christie, of course, was the prosecutor responsible for sending Mr Kushner’s father to prison a decade ago. In a plot worthy of The Sopranos, Mr Kushner took his revenge last autumn: helping to scupper Mr Christie’s hopes of becoming Mr Trump’s running-mate and then ousting him from his role as head of the president-elect’s transition team.

Whatever difficulties his son-in-law may eventually find himself in, Mr Trump may want to remember that Mr Kushner has a long memory.

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