Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman once bragged that he had Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner “in his pocket.”
Now, even after it is widely believed that Prince Mohammed ordered the kidnapping, killing, and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Kushner, an adviser to Trump, continues to exchange informal messages with Prince Mohammed to the dismay of national security officials.
The ongoing relationship between Kushner and Prince Mohammed is described in a new report by The New York Times. In it, the Times describes concern by former top U.S. officials about Kushner’s “political inexperience” and the fact that private, unofficial exchanges between the two men—likely via WhatsApp and unsupervised by U.S. national security experts—could “make him susceptible to Saudi manipulation.”
That concern doesn’t seem too far-fetched, considering the Trump administration—and Trump, specifically—bent over backward to provide cover for Prince Mohammed despite U.S. intelligence agencies concluding the Saudi crown prince likely was behind Khashoggi’s assassination.
According to one Saudi interviewed for the story, Kushner even gave the crown prince advice on how to handle the backlash caused by Khashoggi’s murder.
Per the Times:
Since the uproar over Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, the Trump administration has acknowledged only one conversation between Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed: an Oct. 10 telephone call joined by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser. The Americans “asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process,” the White House said in a statement.
But American officials and a Saudi briefed on their conversations said that Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed have continued to chat informally. According to the Saudi, Mr. Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.
Equally embarrassing, at least from a democratic perspective, is that none of this is transparent. What is Kushner’s angle, anyway? He’s never really had to explain the answer to that question to the American people.
According to the report, Kushner desperately wants to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, and like Israel, he sees Saudi Arabia as key in this process.
The Saudis also have promised a terrorism “intelligence and data” exchange with the U.S., an “Arab NATO,” $50 billion in defense contracts, and hundreds of billions of dollars of other investments in the U.S. Trump repeatedly has referred to these promises in justifying a weak U.S. response to the Khashoggi killing.
Yet, as the Times observed:
Few of the Saudi promises have amounted to much. The effectiveness of the counterterrorism center in Riyadh remains doubtful. After offering $50 billion in new weapons contracts, the Saudis have signed only letters of interest or intent without any firm deals. After proposing to marshal up to $100 billion in investments in American infrastructure, the Saudis have announced an investment of only $20 billion.
Still, Kushner continues to stand by his man—and convince his father-in-law to do the same—with little oversight, until now.