Updated Jun 3, 2019

Exclusive: Jared Kushner on MBS, refugees, racism and Trump's legacy

Jared Kushner. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Discussing the horrific death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interview with "Axios on HBO," White House adviser Jared Kushner was noncommittal on whether Saudi Crown Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) must account for Khashoggi's body.

Kushner said he's still waiting for results of a U.S. investigation to assign blame, even though the CIA reportedly determined with a high degree of confidence that MBS ordered the murder, and the U.S. Senate unanimously declared that he was responsible.

Why it matters: Kushner, who shares the president's view that Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner to counter Iran, has formed a close relationship with MBS and helped promote him as a great reformer. We see here that even eight months after Khashoggi's death in a Saudi consulate, the White House still refuses to publicly hold the Saudi leader accountable.

  • Asked whether he would join Khashoggi's fiancée in calling on the Saudi government to release his body (or identify where they put the body parts) so that his family might bury him, Kushner said: "Look, it's a horrific thing that happened. … Once we have all the facts, then we'll make a policy determination, but that would be up to the Secretary of State to push on our policy."

Other highlights:

  • Kushner talked about how his grandparents came to America as impoverished refugees, after surviving the Nazis, and "they were able to build a great life for themselves." He said, "It's a great reminder of how great this country is, where my grandparents could be on the precipice of life or death and then come to this country and ... 70 years later ... their grandson's working in the White House."
  • I asked Kushner what he makes of President Trump's decision to slash America's refugee intake to the lowest level in 40 years. He defended that decision, saying the overall numbers are irrelevant given the scale of the global refugee crisis. Read Axios' Stef Kight's story on our exchange.
  • Kushner passionately defended Trump against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's charge that the president is a racist. I asked him whether Birtherism is racist. He wouldn't answer the question — saying repeatedly that he wasn't involved in Birtherism and that he knows who the president is. He also ducked whether Trump campaigning on a Muslim ban was an example of religious bigotry. Watch the clip.

Kushner said history will remember President Trump for two things above all else:

  1. Changing the types of people who come to work in Washington — "people who never would've been in Washington before who were not qualified by conventional standards ... have brought great results to this country both economically and from a national security point of view."
  2. Changing "how we think about America's place in the world" — from a post-World War II era where everybody took advantage of America, to a new era of "rebalance" in trade and burden sharing. Kushner believes Trump has set America on a new course that will outlive his presidency.

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What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."

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Catch up on today's biggest news:

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  2. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps
  3. U.S. military officially stops offensive operations in Afghanistan
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  5. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins