A bombshell New York Times report reveals President Donald Trump asked his chief of staff, John Kelly, to oust his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, from their roles as senior advisors. The Times obtained the information from White House aides who spoke on condition of anonymity, providing a window into a White House rife with dysfunction, where morale is lower than ever before.
The chaos, these sources say, is reminiscent of the White House's earliest days––when the president's travel ban sent the nation into a furor and forced airports into lockdown and, it should be noted, a profoundly different crop of faces reigned (reports since Hope Hicks, the White House Communications Director, turned in her resignation have emphasized the revolving door nature of the White House). Kelly, they add, "should have carried out a larger staff shake-up when he came in." His failure to do so "has allowed several people to stagnate, particularly in policy roles."
The aides admitted that they'd expressed frustration amongst themselves that Kushner and Ivanka have remained at the White House, despite the president's occasional outbursts of annoyance with them, "saying they never should have come to the White House and should leave." The aides noted that Trump had told the couple they should keep serving in their roles, "even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out."
Trump is "isolated and angry," according to the report. In recent days, he has sparred publicly with Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, calling Sessions' decision to have the Justice Department inspector general––not prosecutors––to investigate potential abuses by the FBI on surveillance warrants "disgraceful," and "watches members of his family clash with a chief of staff he recruited to restore a semblance of order — all against the darkening shadow of an investigation of his ties to Russia." In fact, insiders note, he considers Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the special counsel's Russia probe the "original sin" which has left him vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Kushner and Ivanka have grown "exasperated" with Kelly, whom they believe wields undue influence over the president and threatens their continued access to him. But Trump's frustrations with Kushner run deep, and Kushner's potential ouster comes on the heels of Kelly downgraded Kushner’s interim security clearance from Top Secret to Secret, making him no longer privy to much of the sensitive information previously available to him. Trump now considers Kushner a "liability":
Yet Mr. Trump is also frustrated with Mr. Kushner, whom he now views as a liability because of his legal entanglements, the investigations of the Kushner family’s real estate company and the publicity over having his security clearance downgraded, according to two people familiar with his views. In private conversations, the president vacillates between sounding regretful that Mr. Kushner is taking arrows and annoyed that he is another problem to deal with.
Aside from the shame of having his security clearance downgraded, in recent days it has emerged that Kushner has used his position to preserve his real estate business interests. The Times reported that on two separate occasions Kushner met with executives from financial companies at the White House and then later secured hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from those companies. The White House has referred questions to Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, who did not deny that the meetings took place. However, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Lowell, said in a statement that Kushner “has met with hundreds of business people," adding that Kushner follows ethical protocol and “has taken no part of any business, loans or projects with or for” Kushner Companies since joining the White House.
In the last 24 hours we’ve learned Hope Hicks is resigning, HR McMaster is on his way out, Gary Cohn is looking to… https://t.co/TF3Mh3eZHo— Scott Dworkin (@Scott Dworkin) 1519947754.0
The White House power couple's projected fall from grace has been the hot topic for political analysis, too. A Washington Post report begins:
They were the ascendant young couples of the Trump White House: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Rob Porter and 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 Porter and Hicks published Feb. 1 in a British tabloid — crashed down on Kushner this week. The shortest month of the year delivered 28 days of tumult that many inside and outside the White House say could mark the fall of the House of Kushner.
Once the prince of Trump’s Washington, Kushner is now stripped of his access to the nation’s deepest secrets, 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.
The report homes in further on Kushner's tempestuous relationship with John Kelly ("Kelly insisted ontreating Kushner just like any other staffer..."), and how the recent wave of especially bad press has weakened his standing within the administration:
Kushner’s tensions with chief of staff John F. Kelly have spilled into public view, while other dormant rivalries have resurfaced. Some colleagues privately mock Kushner as a shadow of his former self; one official likened the work of his Office of American Innovation to headlines in “The Onion,” the satirical news website. Others said fear of the Russia probe has made some officials wary of interacting with Kushner on sensitive matters. And his reputation as an interlocutor for foreign governments has been undermined by the lowering of his security clearance level, which generated embarrassing headlines worldwide.
Indeed, Kushner has found himself the butt of jokes around Washington, as recent social media posts from prominent politicians can attest.
Ted Lieu (D-CA), one of the Trump administration's most vociferous critics, asks, "Why is Jared Kushner still a Senior White House Advisor?"
Based on troubling disclosures by the free press about #Kushner and his downgraded security clearance, it is time w… https://t.co/4fliqJwJs2— Ted Lieu (@Ted Lieu) 1519916611.0
Likewise Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, encouraged her Twitter followers to "retweet" if they agreed that "Jared Kushner should be removed from the White House immediately." She added: "It's preposterous that he's even there to begin with."
RT if you agree: Jared Kushner should be removed from the White House immediately. It's preposterous that he's even there to begin with.— Nancy Pelosi (@Nancy Pelosi) 1519921243.0
Members of the media have also weighed in with jabs of their own. Kyle Griffin, of MSNBC's The Last Word, shared a chart compiled from a database of cable news captions collected at the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive. Kushner's name was mentioned 213 times on MSNBC between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. and 154 times on CNN. Unsurprisingly, Kushner was brought up a total of only 10 times in Fox News’s prime-time programming, another indication of the highly partisan divide between the president's preferred network and other media outlets.
Number of times Jared Kushner’s name was mentioned in prime-time cable news programming Mon.-Wed.: MSNBC 213 CNN 1… https://t.co/2PfYsjEsAC— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin) 1519991400.0
It seems Kushner could not survive the negative media attention and, according to Anthony Scaramucci, who was fired by the president on the recommendation of John Kelly just days into his new role as White House Communications Director, it was all planned out.
“You tell me who wants Jared out of power and that’s where the attacks are coming from,” said Scaramucci, who spoke to The Washington Post. “The Rob Porter scandal was a crisis of John Kelly’s own doing, and he flipped it into a discussion of security clearances and used it as a foil against Jared. This is how Washington works. It was a coordinated hit.”
Ivanka has seen her own share of controversy. A CNN report quoted Kelly as saying that the president's daughter is "playing government," noting that he further dismissed her child tax credit as “a pet project.” Kelly's frustrations with Ivanka, the report alleges, mirrored those of other individuals in the White House, all of whom have privately decried the decision to have her lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics closing ceremony, despite her lack of diplomatic expertise in matters related to the Korean Penninsula.
A separate CNN report added still more complications to Ivanka's standing in the West Wing. The media outlet broke the news that counterintelligence officials are "scrutinizing" the negotiations and financing surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, which may be delaying her security clearance.
"It was only a matter of time before Chief of Staff John Kelly moved in to stop Jarvanka, with Kushner up first," says Margaret Carlson, writing for The Daily Beast. She adds that the scandals are "more likely to send Kushner and Ivanka the way of Hope Hicks, sooner rather than later."
"Their Capitol life is a comedown from the heady days when they moved to a white house on the hill in a leafy neighborhood close to their jobs in the other White House," she writes. "They not only expected to enjoy the fruits of power and influence but to be rescued from the brink of bankruptcy on a flagship building on Fifth Avenue."
More as this story develops.