I am dead worried about Jared Kushner. There are whispers – from Fox News, and they should know – that he’s struggling in his new perch at the White House and losing weight. Those shoulders of his weren’t too broad in the first place. But the burden on them just keeps growing.
Look at what he has going on, not including the demands of a family with three children under the age of six. Responsibility number one: restraining the more self-destructive instincts of his swerving father-in-law, the President. You know he understands the perils of Twitter because when you look up his own handle, it just reads: “@jaredkushner hasn't Tweeted”. Smart man.
Yet each time his “Make America Great Again” edifice loses a cornice, Donald Trump’s default response is to push Kushner onto an ever-higher pedestal upon it. It has been a dizzying rise for the dauphin prince. But he should ask: how will I survive if it all comes crashing down?
Trump has done it again. Reeling from the replace-Obamacare debacle, he’s just unveiled something called the White House Office of American Innovation, with Kushner in charge. The wheeze: to make the federal government act more like a private company. “Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers,” Kushner told The Washington Post.
So we are citizen-customers now. Is there a cash-back guarantee if Product Trump, PT, under-performs? Look at LL Bean, the venerable outdoor clothing supplier. It refunds anything regardless of when you bought it. “If something’s not working or fitting or standing up to its task or lasting as long as you think it should, we’ll take it back,” it pledges. Tempting, but with PT it’s the other way about: no returning it for four years (exceptional circumstances excluded).
Kushner’s innovation white-board squiggles will be migraine-inducing. His remit includes nurturing the 100 business titans – Bill Gates-grade folk – who have already visited the White House to mine their brains on how to make government more efficient. It must streamline, notably, the Department of Veterans Affairs. As if that wasn’t enough, it will also take on the scourge of opioid abuse. And odd fit with everything else, but never mind.
That, you imagine, is enough about Jared for one week. I fear not. As a direct result of yet another set of responsibilities that were thrust upon him even before the inauguration – setting up channels of communication with foreign powers – he is being drawn into the one affair he'd absolutely prefer to stay away from: the alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It is as private ambassador for Trump that Kushner has also found himself tasked with brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Honestly. “If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump was heard telling him before his swearing-in. Such faith in his son-in-law, who is just 36, notwithstanding his comprehensive dearth of experience, is touching. Kushner is an observant Jew – his wife, the President’s daughter, Ivanka, converted before their marriage – but it isn’t clear if that will help or hinder him in this particular endeavour.
But back to Russia. How big a problem this is about to become for Kushner is not clear. What we know so far: during the transition he met with Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, something he reportedly omitted to mention when the White House was dealing with crisis that led to the resignation of Mike Flynn as national security adviser when it emerged that he too had spoken with Kislyak and that his conversations had included discussions of the eventual lifting by Trump of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration.
Contact with Kislyak by itself may not be a problem. But what has piqued the interest of a Senate panel probing the whole issue of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is a subsequent meeting, that was requested by Kislyak, between Kushner and a fellow called Sergey Gorkov. He is chief of Vnesheconombank, which is directly controlled by the Putin government and is one of the banks that was hit with Obama sanctions after Russian intrusions into Ukraine. Kushner only owned up for the first time to that second meeting this week.
The White House insists Kushner was merely doing his job – smoothing the way with foreign governments ahead of the Trump team taking power. There is a problem with that, however: the Russian bank issued a statement saying that Gorkov met with Kushner in his capacity as head Kushner Companies, the giant property development firm founded by Kushner’s father in the 1980s, of which Kushner Jr was still CEO at the time ahead of his stepping down in January.
Even before trying to get to the bottom of what was discussed by the two men, this returns the spotlight to the conflict-of-interest questions that cling to Kushner as they do to Ivanka. Remember when Kellyanne Conway urged TV viewers to buy her jewellery from the West Wing? We recently learned of talks going on between the Kushner clan and Anbang Insurance Group, the giant Chinese company with direct links to the leadership in Beijing, to buy a $400m (£321m) stake in a Kushner-owned sky-scraper in Manhattan. They are happening as both countries are preparing for a first meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.
Kushner is the closest person to Trump himself to be summoned to testify on the Russia affair. (The White House says he volunteered, rather than was summoned.) As far as we know he has not yet been similarly approached by the FBI, which has been pursuing its own Russia investigation since July. If it turns out he offered any kind of reassurance to Gorkov of sanctions on his bank being lifted by Trump then he will face pressure to walk the same plank that Flynn had to.
It’s no wonder if Kushner is starting to look peaky. The man was overworked already and now this Russia cloud has blown in. He has that baby complexion, but just how concerned you choose to be for his health and his sanity is entirely up to you.