TRUMPS UNDER SCRUTINY

Fall of Jared Kushner, the prince of Washington

President Trump had reportedly mused that it would be better for Mr Jared Kushner and Ms Ivanka Trump if they returned to New York. Mr Kushner is under scrutiny for mixing business and government work, as well as for his contacts with certain foreign
President Trump had reportedly mused that it would be better for Mr Jared Kushner and Ms Ivanka Trump if they returned to New York. Mr Kushner is under scrutiny for mixing business and government work, as well as for his contacts with certain foreign government officials. Ms Trump is also facing questions about her level of access to the nation's secrets.PHOTO: REUTERS

He had it all. Power, influence and glamour. But US President Donald Trump's high-flying son-in-law Jared Kushner has been progressively sidelined in his White House role - the latest blow the downgrading of his security clearance. Looking increasingly isolated, his weakening comes as a series of other high-profile colleagues exit the White House, underscoring the turmoil within.

WASHINGTON • They were the ascendant young couples of the Trump White House: Mr Jared Kushner and Ms Ivanka Trump, and Mr Rob Porter and Ms Hope Hicks. They enjoyed rarefied access to the President and special privileges in the West Wing. Glamorous and well-connected, they had an air of power and invincibility. They even double-dated once.

But an unlikely cascade of events - set in motion by paparazzi photos of White House staff secretary Porter with White House communications director Hicks, published on Feb 1 in a British tabloid - crashed down on Mr Kushner last week.

Shortly after the photos were published, both of Mr Porter's former wives came forward with allegations of domestic abuse, over which he ultimately left the White House - but not before serious questions were raised about the administration's security clearance process, including the special privileges afforded to Mr Kushner, who served as senior adviser to the President.

On Feb 23, White House chief of staff John Kelly stripped a number of staffers, including Mr Kushner, of their access to top secrets because of the interim status of their security clearances caused by complications over their FBI background checks.

Mr Kushner's contacts with certain foreign government officials are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, United States officials said.

News of Mr Kushner's clearance being downgraded from "top secret" to "secret" generated embarrassing headlines worldwide, undermining his reputation as an interlocutor for foreign governments.

STAYING AT ARM'S LENGTH

Some of his administration colleagues are just more reluctant to have conversations with him or in his company because they're not sure if he's a witness or a target of the Mueller investigation.

'' A SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL, saying the uncertainty surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has cast a cloud over Mr Kushner in particular.

Once the prince of Mr Trump's Washington, Mr Kushner is now isolated and badly weakened inside the administration, under scrutiny for his mixing of business and government work and facing the possibility of grave legal peril in the Russia probe.

A senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the uncertainty surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has cast a cloud over Mr Kushner in particular.

"Some of his administration colleagues are just more reluctant to have conversations with him or in his company because they're not sure if he's a witness or a target of the Mueller investigation," the official said.

For President Donald Trump, his son-in-law's downfall has been difficult to stomach, if not entirely unexpected, aides said. Mr Trump said on Feb 23: "Jared's done an outstanding job. I think he's been treated very unfairly. He's a high-quality person."

The President and his family were frustrated by how Mr Kelly handled the rollout of clearance changes, and felt Mr Kushner was unfairly exposed, according to people who have spoken with them.

But Mr Kelly, for his part, has steadfastly denied any effort to target Mr Kushner and praised him last month for his "valuable contributions".

Mr Trump mused last week that everything might be better for Mr Kushner and Ms Trump if they simply gave up their government jobs and returned to New York, according to a White House official who has discussed it with him.

Mr Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, defence secretary and CIA director in Democratic administrations, said: "This was predictable from the get-go. Under the best of circumstances, these are tough jobs. But when you now add to that list family members who have no clear-cut role, no experience, no real understanding of the rules and a host of financial connections and business dealings that can obviously be used to manipulate you, then that is a prescription for the kind of chaos you're seeing in the White House."

Mr Kushner continues to help manage the Middle East peace process and the administration's relationship with Mexico. He also convenes weekly meetings on restructuring the prison system, telling colleagues it is his main domestic focus even though the President has given it scant attention.

Early on, Mr Kushner was a conduit to the business community, regularly convening them for White House meetings. But the President's business councils disbanded last year over his divisive remarks following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

"Jared has faded from the scene," said one executive. "People haven't heard much from him in months."

By last week, the once powerful foursome was fractured and in varying states of disarray. Mr Porter is no longer dating Ms Hicks, who abruptly announced last Wednesday that she is giving up her post after six years of working for the Trump family in one capacity or another.

Ms Hicks said her departure was not related to her testimony to a congressional committee last Tuesday about an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

Ms Trump, meanwhile, is also facing questions about her level of access to the nation's secrets following a high-profile meeting with South Korean officials during the Winter Olympics.

In times of duress, Mr Kushner has leaned on Mr Josh Raffel, a deputy White House communications director, to help cope with unflattering coverage. But Mr Raffel, too, announced last week that he is leaving.

Other allies, including technology adviser Reed Cordish and national security adviser Dina Powell, have also recently left.

Amid the chaos, Mr Kushner has attempted to maintain a sense of normality.

Last Wednesday, he attended a senior staff meeting where he spoke about the recent announcement that Mr Brad Parscale, a close friend of his who worked on Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, would be running the 2020 re-election.

The appointment came as a surprise to some West Wing officials and was seen as an attempted consolidation of power by Mr Kushner at an especially precarious time.

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'Fall of the prince of Washington'. Print Edition | Subscribe