STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Kushner, Russia bombshells rock the White House

A volley of stunning rev...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 12:22 PM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 12:22 PM

A volley of stunning revelations over Jared Kushner and the Russia probe are rocking Donald Trump's inner circle and suggest a pivotal moment is at hand in the West Wing personnel wars that have raged throughout his presidency.

First, it emerged Tuesday that chief of staff John Kelly downgraded the top secret security clearance for the President's son-in-law in a bid to clear up a scandal over whether top administration players are qualified to access the most sensitive intelligence.

Then, The Washington Post published a bombshell report that at least four countries had discussed how to use Kushner's sparse experience, financial troubles and intricate business arrangements to manipulate him.

Hours later, CNN reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is asking questions about Trump's business dealings with Russia before the President's campaign, a potentially significant development in the investigation.

Triple blows

The triple blows at Trump's inner circle added to the already incredible personal, political and legal pressure heaped on the President and the strain on those staffing his turbulent presidency.

They come at a moment when Mueller's probe is gathering pace, cranking out indictments of Trump associates, and appears to be posing a more severe threat to the President, Kushner and other important associates.

The developments were more than a personal and public humiliation to Kushner, who has played an influential, if mysterious, role in the administration.

They put the sustainability of his role as a top foreign policy adviser to Trump in doubt because he will have access to far fewer government secrets and cannot see the Presidential Daily Brief, the collection of the spy community's treasures prepared for the commander in chief.

The downgrade appears to make it all but impossible for Kushner to do his job even though the White House and his lawyer say that is not the case.

But how for example can he carry out his duties running the Middle East peace process or liaising with top Gulf powers if he is not privy to the latest intelligence about his interlocutors or other key regional players like Iran?

Similarly, Kushner could find himself asked to leave sensitive meetings in the White House or force top intelligence or foreign policy officials to avoid the most sensitive subjects in meetings that he is in with the President.

"He can't see intercepted communications -- that's top secret, he's now downgraded to secret ... he can't see the most secret CIA information about their informants," said Phil Mudd, a former CIA and FBI official who is now a CNN national security analyst.

"He can't see some of the stuff our Western allies see," he added.

Ultimately, unless Kushner is cleared by the FBI to receive a permanent security clearance or gets a waiver from the President his diminished role will spur fresh speculation about his longevity as a White House staffer.

His departure and potentially that of his wife Ivanka Trump, who just controversially led a US mission to South Korea's Winter Olympics at a time of flaring nuclear tensions with North Korea, would mark a huge earthquake in Trump world.

As it is, the couple will see their "influence diminished," a GOP source close to the White House told CNN's Jim Acosta.

Fresh doubts over Kushner's position also risked reflecting poorly on Trump, given that the President made a close family member who was apparently unqualified or at risk of being compromised by foreign powers such a pivotal adviser.

After all, Trump pledged to hire the most qualified people in the world to serve in his administration, and made the alleged mishandling of classified material by his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton a key argument of his campaign.

Trump was already under ethical fire for breaking anti-nepotism conventions by hiring family members. Kushner's new troubles will make those questions even more acute.

"This is a stunning blow to President Trump," said CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali, noting that Kushner was one of the few senior advisers with whom Trump felt comfortable.

"This is a big deal ... he must be fuming," Naftali told CNN's Erin Burnett.

Foreign manipulations

The idea that key foreign countries, including Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates had acted on conversations about how to manipulate Kushner, according to current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports cited by the Post, is also a problem.

After all, the optics of a senior presidential adviser sitting down with leaders who have been publicly reported to have tried to compromise him would weaken his leverage.

The political implications of the Kushner news are less profound than the national security questions but no less intriguing.

The strike against Kushner is a bold move by Kelly who has worked to remove what he sees a distracting elements around the President -- such as former top political adviser Steve Bannon and former foreign policy aide Sebastian Gorka. But his decision to take on the President's son-in-law is the most significant and potentially risky coup yet.

Last week, Trump told reporters he would let Kelly decide what to do about his son-in-law's clearance but stressed that Kushner had done an "outstanding job." The comment was seen by many in Washington as a broad hint to Kelly that the President wanted Kushner kept in the loop.

Now any attempt by Trump to contradict Kelly's move would shatter the chief of staff's authority and make his position all but impossible. But if Kelly prevails, his decision on Kushner will be regarded as a gutsy political victory and would undercut speculation he cannot last much longer in the White House.

Signs that Mueller is looking into Trump's finances meanwhile add a layer of intensity to the drama surrounding his investigation.

The President has previously warned that he would not tolerate the special counsel seeking such information, so speculation about whether Trump will try to fire Mueller will be revived.

While there is no indication so far of any wrongdoing by Trump or collusion with a Russian election meddling effort, the report again poses the question of whether his past business dealings could have been a target for any Russian attempt to compromise him.

Any sense on the part of the President that the walls are closing in will not have been helped by Tuesday's testimony to a House committee by Hope Hicks, his communications director and close campaign aide.

CNN's Manu Raju reported that Hicks testified that she has sometimes had to tell white lies for the President, but had not lied about anything substantive.

Huntsville
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 92°
Florence
Clear
93° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 96°
Fayetteville
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 88°
Decatur
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 92°
Scottsboro
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 92°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6219167
Mobile4625138
Montgomery4397111
Tuscaloosa258652
Madison19839
Marshall190411
Shelby155724
Lee153537
Morgan12415
Baldwin117011
Walker105631
Elmore100721
Dallas9789
Franklin92816
Etowah91914
DeKalb8647
Russell6650
Chambers66427
Autauga66214
Butler64529
Tallapoosa62569
Unassigned61627
Limestone5963
Houston5616
Lauderdale5556
Cullman5546
St. Clair4842
Colbert4816
Lowndes48022
Escambia4688
Pike4675
Calhoun4565
Coffee4164
Covington40312
Jackson4022
Barbour3772
Bullock37610
Dale3721
Talladega3677
Hale34323
Marengo34211
Clarke3036
Wilcox2998
Chilton2952
Winston2925
Sumter28713
Blount2811
Marion26714
Pickens2626
Monroe2553
Randolph2489
Conecuh2278
Perry2242
Bibb2151
Macon2129
Choctaw20912
Greene1929
Henry1463
Washington1367
Crenshaw1263
Lawrence1210
Cherokee1157
Geneva950
Lamar871
Clay822
Fayette811
Coosa631
Cleburne421
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 59546

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby13113219
Davidson12935142
Rutherford342839
Hamilton319637
Sumner187456
Williamson167016
Knox15069
Trousdale15065
Out of TN139710
Wilson113017
Putnam10027
Unassigned9362
Bradley9254
Robertson90113
Sevier8843
Montgomery7127
Lake6960
Tipton6926
Bledsoe6271
Bedford5989
Macon5686
Hamblen4474
Maury4313
Hardeman4004
Fayette3573
Madison3472
Loudon3201
Blount3063
Rhea3030
Dyer2803
McMinn27018
Cheatham2643
Dickson2510
Washington2350
Lawrence2276
Cumberland2004
Anderson1892
Sullivan1892
Lauderdale1754
Gibson1661
Jefferson1641
Monroe1526
Smith1482
Greene1382
Coffee1370
Cocke1300
Hardin1257
Warren1200
Obion1182
Haywood1132
Franklin1103
Wayne1100
Marshall1082
Hickman1010
McNairy1001
Marion914
Giles891
Carter871
Lincoln840
Hawkins832
DeKalb820
White813
Roane800
Overton701
Weakley691
Claiborne680
Campbell671
Grundy652
Henderson650
Chester590
Unicoi560
Grainger550
Polk550
Carroll521
Henry500
Crockett493
Cannon460
Jackson460
Johnson450
Sequatchie450
Humphreys392
Meigs370
Perry370
Morgan301
Decatur280
Fentress270
Stewart270
Scott260
Union220
Houston200
Clay180
Moore170
Benton151
Hancock110
Lewis100
Van Buren90
Pickett70

 

 

Community Events