On Thursday morning, as President Donald Trump told a group of about 50 staff members at the United States Mission to the United Nations that the official who tipped off the Ukraine whistle-blower was “close to a spy,” and that “in the old days” spies were dealt with differently, Jared Kushner tucked into breakfast at Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, not far from where he used to live before he upended his New York life to take up one of the most senior perches in the West Wing. Later that morning he met up with his father-in-law at a fundraiser at a different Cipriani, where the president boasted that the attention around the call was “the greatest thing” to happen to the Republican Party because it had raised so much money on its back.
It’s not surprising that, on top of everything else, impeachment is being added to Kushner’s White House portfolio. According to three people familiar with his role, he has taken to advising Trump on the fallout and game plan for what will transpire over the coming days, weeks, and months, as Democrats ramp up an impeachment inquiry into the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden. Kushner’s advice has played a role in many of the dramas that have swept through the West Wing in the past two and a half years. He notoriously advised Trump to get rid of former FBI director James Comey, a move that prompted the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. He has served as a touchpoint on immigration reform, trade concerns, criminal justice reform, and the Middle East peace process.
He has taken a lead in building relationships with foreign leaders, most controversially with the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. (Kushner visited Saudi Arabia over the summer for a meeting with MBS as he unveiled the economic portion of his Mideast peace plan, despite bipartisan consensus that MBS was behind the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. Next month Kushner will likely attend a splashy event in the kingdom known as “Davos in the Desert,” according to a person familiar with his plans. It is possible that he will participate in the event beyond just attending.) Kushner also had dinner with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in June, along with the prime ministers of Romania and Georgia, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and comedian Jay Leno, for a meeting on transatlantic relations. Kushner has made suggestions about presidential pardons and, perhaps more important, weighed in on personnel matters, from firing onetime transition head Chris Christie and former adviser Steve Bannon to getting rid of chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and communications directors Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci.
A large part of Kushner’s ubiquity comes from sheer proximity. This week, for example, Kushner sat in on Trump’s bilateral meetings with leaders of Japan, Singapore, Korea, Egypt, the United Kingdom, India, and Iraq at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York. He flew back to DC on Air Force One. From the White House on Friday, he joined Trump on a call to Jewish leaders ahead of the New Year celebration beginning on Sunday evening.
Kushner’s influence has benefited from a whiplash-happy West Wing. He and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted policy experts and political savants through sheer loyalty. As Trump’s circle has tightened and his paranoia has increased, Kushner’s voice has grown louder and steadier. His current message, say people familiar with the West Wing conversation, is the suggestion that the president go on the road as the impeachment inquiry heats up, as both a way to spin the message of another Democratic witch hunt to his base and improve his mood as he faces a battle on Capitol Hill. “Of course he’s advising him on this,” one person close to the president told me. “The beauty of Jared, for him, is he’s always there, and he does it one-on-one, so the advice can stay close.”
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