In a family-run business, rarely do family members get the boot — and usually those who try pushing them out find themselves on the outside looking in. And yet, both the Wall Street Journal and CBS report today that Donald Trump’s legal team tried convincing son-in-law Jared Kushner to return to the private sector over worries about his potential liability in the probe on Russian interference in the election. That worked out about as well as it does in any other family business:
Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.
Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions. …
After some members of the legal team aired their concerns to Mr. Trump in June, including in at least one meeting in the White House, press aides to the legal team began to prepare for the possibility that Mr. Kushner would step down, drafting a statement explaining his departure, said people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Trump wasn’t persuaded that Mr. Kushner needed to leave. One person said Mr. Trump’s view was that Mr. Kushner hadn’t done anything wrong and that there was no need for him to step down.
According to CBS, which confirmed the story independently after the WSJ ran it, the catalyst was the exposure of the Trump Tower meeting. Donald Trump Jr set up the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who teased about having dirt on Hillary Clinton, but both Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort came along. Kushner, however, was the only one who ended up with a job in the White House. Trump can distance himself from Manafort and even his own son, but disavowing Kushner won’t work as long as he has an official role in the administration — assuming that there’s any legal liability here at all, of course, which has yet to be established.
Trump balked at canning his son-in-law, which produced a predictable result, the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig reports:
The debate, first reported Monday night by the Wall Street Journal, took place before a July shake-up of the legal team. The idea to press Kushner to leave was ultimately rejected.
Family businesses mainly run on one principle: Family first. Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda half-joked in his memoir that he made sure to befriend Peter O’Malley’s kids because they’d be his bosses at some point, and that’s basically true for anyone working in a family-owned business. Unless the owner is childless and without any in-laws, non-related employees will always bump into the blood ceiling no matter how well they perform — and if they try to push out family members, no matter how wise that might be, they risk hitting the bricks.
That could be why we’re hearing about it, though, and Trump lawyer Ty Cobb suspects the same thing:
In a statement Monday night, White House lawyer Ty Cobb blamed the disclosure of the internal debate on former White House staffers seeking to tarnish Kushner, who Cobb described as “among the President’s most trusted, competent, selfless and intelligent advisers.”
“Those whose agendas were and remain focused on sabotaging him and his family for misguided personal reasons are no longer around,” said Cobb, who was brought aboard in July to specialize in the Russia inquiry. “All clandestine efforts to undermine him never gained traction.” …
Cobb declined to say which former staffers he believed were trying to undermine Kushner. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who was dismissed last month, had been a rival to Kushner in the West Wing. Bannon did not respond to requests for comment.
That seems like a stretch. Bannon would know better than to attack Trump’s family, even if he really wants to do so. Bannon still has influence on Trump — at a distance for now, but as we have seen with Corey Lewandowski, exile isn’t forever. Torching Kushner publicly like this would likely burn those bridges forever. Note too that Breitbart didn’t report this, although they did pick up the WSJ scoop quickly when it emerged.
There are others who might fit the bill better, including some of the recent terminations from the National Security Council, or perhaps even those who were on the legal team that suggested Kushner’s departure. There are lots of people who may be itching to get their revenge after John Kelly’s crackdown on discipline within the White House. Given the distance in time for this story, it doesn’t appear to be coming from someone currently within the fold.
The leaks that come from recent departures are the “sunk cost” of any administration, but given the chaos in the West Wing before Kelly took over, this administration may have more sunk costs than most. The leaks should begin to subside soon, though, assuming Kelly has tightened the leash enough to prevent more from coming out now … or at least those leaks that the administration doesn’t organize on its own behalf.