#FireKushner? National Security Council staffers grumble about Jared's interference in natsec policy

Time to play another round of Washington’s most popular pastime, “Who leaked?” Any theories on which Kushner frenemy, perhaps recently criticized himself for his outsized role in crafting national security policy, might want it known that Jared has a bit too much influence in a critical area of policy in which he has no experience?

I think it was cute of Team Bannon to feed this to the Free Beacon instead of to Breitbart, just to raise the barest trace of doubt about whether they’re really responsible. Gotta keep the former(?) boss’s fingerprints off the Kushner attacks now that they’ve supposedly healed the rift, after all.

Kushner has taken aggressive action to micro-manage the NSC, overshadowing even recently installed National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, according to sources both inside and outside the White House who described Kushner’s behavior as highly unusual and damaging to the country’s national security infrastructure…

Senior NSC staff are finding their hands tied when it comes to performing even perfunctory duties, such as talking points and statements on high profile issues that must go through Kushner for approval. Sources who spoke the Free Beacon described this level of involvement as kneecapping the NSC and contributing to its difficulties formulating policy.

“Kushner is meddling in a lot of things,” according to one NSC official who spoke to the Free Beacon only on background. “Such direct control of foreign policy from the West Wing has never happened before. It just creates a lot of drama. People just don’t know how to deal with it. We’re respectful of his position, but it’s confusing the policymaking process.”…

The installation of Dina Powell, a confidant of Kushner’s wife Ivanka, to the NSC is said to have been orchestrated by Kushner in order to solidify his power over the foreign policy organization, sources said.

The best, most Breitbart-esque line: “On the other hand, Bannon’s team is said to be more respectful and willing to defer to the organization as West Wing staffers have traditionally done under past administrations.” Heh. Is that why Bannon finagled himself a seat on the NSC’s Principals Committee, an unprecedented move for a political strategist, and then allegedly threatened to quit if Trump took it away?

Dina Powell is frequently mentioned as a key player in stories about the Bannon/Kushner drama. She and Gary Cohn, Trump’s new chairman of the National Economic Council, usually are the first ones cited as the globalist “Democrats” in the West Wing who are helping Kushner and Ivanka Trump push dad further to the left on everything from foreign intervention to keeping cost-sharing subsidies for ObamaCare going. Bannon has his own allies on the Council too, though: John Podhoretz speculates that one of the Free Beacon’s sources here is Michael Anton, a deputy national security official better known as “Publius Decius Mus,” author of the famous essay during the campaign about the “Flight 93 Election.” Whether that’s true or not, Anton probably will be suspected by Team Jared once they see this. And as Axios noted this morning, one of the things about Bannon that Trump has supposedly come to find irritating is “leaks against Jared and Ivanka, or planted stories that he blamed Bannon for.”

That’s the real mystery of the Free Beacon piece — knowing that Kushner and Trump will be pissed off by it at a moment when Trump seems pissed off already at the tension between Kushner and Bannon, why would Bannon or his allies take the risk of leaking it? Does he want Trump to fire him at this point, expecting that he’s going to be replaced sooner rather than later anyway? In that sense, Bannon may be following the same strategy from the right as Sally Yates did from the left: It’s much better for your political brand to have Trump dismiss you for your refusal to comply with what you perceive as a policy mistake than to timidly resign.

Lost in all the intrigue, though, is the fact that Kushner really does have a freakishly expansive policy portfolio — not just by the standards of a 36-year-old who spent his career in publishing and real estate but by any standards. He really does seem to be a sort of shadow Secretary of State, taking a lead role in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, and meanwhile being assigned the massive project of reorganizing government to make it more efficient. The most charitable read you can put on that is that Kushner may not have any real substantive duties in each area; he could be there to act as Trump’s trusted eyes and ears while the experts working under him in each sphere go about forging a policy. (Trump has followed that strategy elsewhere, in fact, assigning political advisors as “minders” at each agency to keep an eye on what’s going on. Kushner may be the minder-in-chief.) Whatever the truth, there’s no denying the power of this counterfactual:

President Hillary Clinton quietly sent her son-in-law, investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, to Iraq on Monday, adding “winning the war against ISIS” to his growing list of responsibilities, which also include “solving Middle East peace,” “heading the new White House Office of American Innovation,” “managing the U.S.-China summit,” and “ending the opioid crisis.” The Chinese government, convinced of Mezvinsky’s importance in the Clinton White House, not only has established a “back channel” to him through its ambassador in Washington, it has also quietly encouraged a Chinese state bank to invest in his troubled hedge fund. While Clinton’s husband has largely stayed out of the White House and remained at home in New York, her daughter Chelsea has also taken a unpaid role in the administration while continuing to run the family foundation and earning five- and six-figure fees giving speeches to corporations with interests in Washington. Meanwhile, most top sub-Cabinet level positions are still unfilled, though in one piece of unexpected news, longtime Clinton confidante and political adviser Sidney Blumenthal has been removed from his brief stint as a member of the National Security Council.

Absurd, yet no more absurd than the reality in which we find ourselves. The massive government influence Kushner has derived from his family connections, despite his inexperience, is far more redolent of third-world dynasties than modern western democracies, and it must chap Bannon’s ass something fierce given not just his populism but his status as a self-made man. But oh well. The Trumps were always a package deal. Trump hasn’t been consistent about much but he’s always, always been consistent about that. Bannon knew what he was getting into. What’s interesting is seeing how much of a pass Kushner tends to get for all of this from the media, which grumbles now and again about him being a “princeling” and beneficiary of nepotism but by and large is happy to have him in Trump’s orbit as a centrist influence. It’s Bannon whom the media sees as an ogre and a corrupting power; to the extent that Kushner is holding him in check or even diminishing his strength as Trump drifts towards a more traditional presidency, they’re happy to go easy on him. We’ll see how long that holds if/when Bannon departs and suddenly Kushner is the new “shadow president” in the White House.

Update: Is Bannon’s departure imminent?

Mr. Bannon’s allies have already begun discussing a post-White House future for him. Last Friday, Mr. Bannon’s main political patron, the financier Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Robert Mercer, a major Trump donor, holed up in her office at Cambridge Analytica in New York, discussing possibilities for Mr. Bannon should he leave, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Bannon served on the board of the data-mining firm until last summer.

Charles Gasparino of Fox Business tweeted earlier today that people close to Bannon say he might accept a “smaller role” in the White House, whatever that means. Why would he want to hang around as a sort of nationalist talisman for Trump’s centrist policies and risk damaging his own brand if it requires him to lose some power?

Update: Bannon shouldn’t get too comfortable. Yeesh:

Mr. Trump said recent reports of infighting among his senior staff—particularly chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner—were “overblown.” But he referred to Mr. Bannon as “a guy who works for me” and noted that he, Mr. Trump, was his own “strategist.”

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022