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Jared Kushner a Jewish-American paradox, traditional presidential family adviser

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday will interview President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, behind closed doors as part of Congress’ investigation into Russian election meddling.

Prominent Jewish-Americans have expressed remorse over Mr. Kushner’s perceived failings, but some White House historians say executive branch operators require discretion.

For months, much of the administration’s Russia-related controversy has swirled around Mr. Kushner. He participated in Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

He proposed a back channel for communications between the Trump administration and Moscow. He misreported meetings with Russian officials on his security clearance forms, and his family’s sprawling real estate empire has been criticized for exploitative practices.

Much of that has enraged Mr. Kushner’s supporters in America’s Jewish community. Yet what has troubled them most has been his public silence about the White House’s refugee ban, especially given his family’s history of refugees and Holocaust survivors. His grandmother Rae Kushner crawled through an underground tunnel to escape the Nazi occupation of a Polish ghetto and then survived in the woods for nine months.

But some prominent historians argue that the public must view Mr. Kushner from the perspective of White House families, where discretion is more important than public action.

Some Capitol Hill Republicans have said they would enjoy seeing Mr. Kushner come out swinging Monday and accuse the Obama White House of spying on Trump campaign associates — including himself — for political gain.

‘It is complicated’

Much of the American Jewish community finds Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, a paradox — feeling pride for their powerful position but disdain for their privilege.

Since the election, the Kushner phenomenon has troubled Jane Eisner, editor of the U.S. Jewish national weekly newspaper The Forward, which also publishes a Yiddish-language edition.

Ms. Eisner’s feature article in January, “What Does It Mean That Jared Kushner Might Be the Most Influential Jew in the World,” examined the contributions and considerations of several Jewish White House advisers, including Louis Brandeis, Henry Morgenthau, Bernard Baruch, Henry Kissinger and Rahm Emanuel. It concluded that Mr. Kushner could “represent a level of Jewish influence that [is] historically unprecedented.”

Proudly left-leaning, The Forward has agonized over Mr. Kushner’s lack of qualifications. Articles have argued that his power has nothing to do with what Judaism values most: learning and wisdom. Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ms. Eisner wrote, are “two extremely privileged 30-somethings with Instagram-ready smiles and unparalleled family connections.”

“For the Jewish community in New York, it is complicated,” she told The Washington Times over the phone. “Here they occupied a large space which was more liberal. There was hope that they’d exercise a degree of balance and advocate for the Jewish-American community. Unless that has happened behind closed doors — it has not happened publicly.”

White House families

A former White House special assistant to both Bush administrations, Doug Wead is also a New York Times best-selling author who has chronicled families of American presidents.

Kushner fans on the left are basically misunderstanding politics,” Mr. Wead told The Times. “White House children who are successful stay inside the family and quietly advocate what they believe without embarrassing the father.”

Mr. Wead said his research found 18 presidents with children occupying prominent roles. They included Rutherford B. Hayes’ son Webb, who ran White House logistics before the era of chiefs of staff, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s daughter Anna, who helped organize the Yalta Conference, which hastened the end of World War II.

Even George Washington, Mr. Wead said, once encouraged President John Adams to appoint his son, John Quincy Adams, as an emissary.

With the appointment of President Kennedy’s brother Robert as attorney general, nepotism went too far. It prompted the creation of the federal Anti-Nepotism Statute — nicknamed the “Bobby Kennedy Law” — strictly limiting jobs that presidential family members can occupy.

Since then, White House families remain important but have “become more discreet,” Mr. Wead said.

“People with family connections, provided they are good, are incredibly important because they’re making decisions for their mom — or their dad — and are willing to take risks,” he said, “whereas other staff are afraid to act and often are just trying to save their jobs.”

Mr. Kushner has played a similar role in some White House successes such as the president’s first overseas trip — a result of Mr. Kushner’s behind-the-scenes work, Mr. Wead said.

Jared is prefect,” he said. “He is emboldened to see things, and he has job security. He has continuity on policy matters, and he is trusted. Who else would you want to open a diplomatic back channel to Moscow?”

Sins of the father

Wrestling with the deeper meaning of Mr. Kushner this spring, the BBC’s Washington bureau floated a theory that the 36-year-old is uniquely qualified to serve in the White House and deal with the complex personality of Donald J. Trump.

North America BBC editor Mark Mardell reasoned that it had to do with Mr. Kushner’s father, who went to prison in a tax evasion case that included an ugly family feud, blackmail and the videotaping of prostitutes. While his father served jail time, Jared Kushner, then in his 20s, successfully ran the massive family real estate firm and dealt constantly with difficult old men. The trauma and tough times hardened him beyond his years and prepared him for any catastrophe, Mr. Mardell said.

Washington insiders wonder how Mr. Kushner will apply these skills in the hearing Monday.

Prognosticators have discussed a behind-the-scenes battle between Mr. Kushner and the White House communications office over defending themselves against the flow of Russia-related allegations.

Mr. Kushner was said be advocating for more discipline, with everyone on the same talking points and presenting a unified defense. Press secretary Sean Spicer was said to be pushing for outside counsel to defend Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump Jr.

On Friday, the White House hired New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director — and Mr. Spicer resigned.

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www.washingtontimes.com stories: National

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