Dec 8, 2018

Report: Senior officials had concerns the Saudis were "playing" Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner stands behind two Saudi men.

Jared Kushner with Saudi officials at the White House. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was identified "as a crucial focal point" by a delegation of Saudis that visited the United States at the start of the Trump administration, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Kushner's relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has insulated the kingdom from heavy criticism in the administration. According to the Times, the two "were on a first-name basis" while texting and speaking on the phone, and their conversations continued after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, of which the kingdom has denied responsibility. The White House maintained in a statement to the Times that Kushner "has always meticulously followed protocols and guidelines."

Details: From the start of the administration, there was concern among senior officials that Kushner "sought to help Prince Mohammed...vault ahead in the line for the throne," before MBS was made the crown prince, the NYT reports.

  • When MBS visited the United States, Kushner ensured he received "the kind of treatment usually reserved for heads of state."
  • When the administration visited Riyadh in March 2017, White House officials began to fear there was "a risk the Saudis were playing" Kushner, a former White House official told the Times.
  • The two men have "continued to chat informally" since the situation surrounding Khashoggi has unfolded, with Kushner offering MBS "advice about how to weather the storm...and avoid further embarrassments."

The Saudis were working before the inauguration to align themselves with the Trump administration, the NYT reports, offering its assistance to help the White House "fulfill its campaign pledges."

  • A presentation put together by the Saudis after a team met with Kushner in November 2016 mentioned his "lack of familiarity with the history of Saudi-American relations," and identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "the most important issues to draw Kushner's attention."
  • Many initiatives proposed by the Saudis to help Trump "deliver for his supporters" per the NYT were welcomed by the Trump administration, including defense contracts with the kingdom, pledged assistance in defeating terrorism, and more.

The White House's statement: "Jared has always meticulously followed protocols and guidelines regarding the relationship with MBS and all of the other foreign officials with whom he interacts.”

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