Move over, Stephen Miller; it's Jared Kushner's turn to be the Trump administration's Prince of Darkness.
Less than a week after President Trump’s son-in-law capped nearly two years of dealmaking for the White House by being dubbed a “hidden genius” by well-respected United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, the media has reduced him to a naive meddler for his efforts bringing Trump and Saudi Arabia together.
“Prince Jared finds himself in the wrong fairytale,” is the headline on a column today from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.
The turn follows the disappearance and rumored murder of columnist and Saudi Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the kingdom’s embassy in Turkey. Reports have suggested that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who Kushner befriended and worked with to tighten U.S.-Saudi relations, ordered the journalist’s disappearance.
And in a one-two punch, the media has also played up leaked Kushner tax returns which show he “appears to” have paid no taxes for several years. The leak angered the White House, which added that there is also no evidence of wrongdoing or improper accounting.
“Kushner is on the hot seat right now because that’s where the mainstream media has decided to put him this week,” said a Republican adviser and White House strategist.
"Anyone who works for, or is associated with Donald Trump is a target for the Fake News Industrial Complex. Jared especially because he and his wonderful wife are deemed traitors to the 'elite' East Coast mafia that had American politics sewn up for so long," added Sebastian Gorka, a former top Trump national security adviser who just published Why We Fight.
Kushner has long played the quiet adviser role and had a big hand in developing foreign policy, including Middle East plans. He also is a major player on trade policy, credited with bringing both Mexico and Canada across the line in the NAFTA talks, and domestic policy such as criminal justice reform.
He told CBS White House Correspondent Major Garrett that he has no agenda, only Trump’s. In Garrett’s newly-released book, Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride, Kushner said: “People know [what] my motivation in coming here was. I gave up a very good career. I came here because it was an amazing opportunity ... they know when they talk to me I will give them honest feedback and I’m not trying to push my own agenda, I’m trying to push the president’s agenda.”
Both Garrett and Bob Woodward in his book, Fear, gave Kushner credit for reviving U.S.-Saudi relations. Woodward wrote that Kushner overpowered the national security establishment to build the deal and said in a meeting that sealed the deal: "I understand the concerns. But I think we have a real opportunity here. We have to recognize it. I understand we have to be careful. We need to work this diligently, as if it's going to happen. And if it looks like we can't get there, we'll have plenty of time to shift gears. But this is an opportunity that is there for the seizing."
And those who work closely with Kushner, like Sen. Rand Paul and his team, pushed back against the media criticism, calling him key to several of Trump's successful agenda items.
"Jared has become one of the most successful operatives in Washington and is able to navigate countless issues simultaneously It is no surprise that Democrats fear and loathe him at the same time. His work on criminal justice reform has the potential to reshape the entire system for generations to come," said Paul's Deputy Chief of Staff Sergio Gor.
Gorka added, "I regularly attended the National Economic Council meetings in the West Wing and can tell you Jared is a very sharp intellect who has helped President Trump to be as successfully he is. The Saudi-Turkey story changes none of that."
It’s common for highly-visible presidential counselors to come under media fire. Under Trump so far, the target has been Miller. Valerie Jarrett was often a focus due to her closeness to Barack and Michelle Obama. Under former President George W. Bush, it was Karl Rove. For Bill Clinton, it was Ira Magaziner, who helped former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton develop universal healthcare.
“This nonsense only matters to inside-the-Beltway watchers who think it impacts the White House. However, really no one else outside of Washington actually cares about the spotlight, and it actually feeds the feeling that the national media is out of touch with reality,” said a GOP strategist.
What is unusual is for the coverage to whipsaw so fast. In the past month, for example, Kushner has been heralded for his trade and foreign policy work.
The Wall Street Journal headlined on Aug. 27, “Kushner and Lighthizer Pressed for Deal Before Mexican President Leaves Office — Trump’s son-in-law and trade representative led the Nafta talks with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.”
Then last week when Haley announced her plans to leave the administration, Newsweek quoted her in this headline: “Jared Kushner is a ‘hidden genius that no one understands,’ Nikki Haley says as she resigns.”
But Monday’s Washington Post headlined, “Two princes: Kushner now faces a reckoning for Trump’s bet on the heir to the Saudi throne.”
And Newsweek translated that story into this headline: “Jared Kushner is a power-hungry ‘prince’ with no government experience like Mohammed bin Salman, U.S. intel officials say: Report.”