Just hours after Politico reported that White House senior advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner had been stripped of his top-level security clearance, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell report that purports to provide an unprecedented level of insight into why Kushner wasn't granted an exemption.
According to WaPo, officials in at least four countries have privately discussed how to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his "complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience." The story cited current and former US intelligence officials.
Kushner's family business, the Kushner Companies, was famously having money troubles tied to 666 Fifth Avenue, "the most expensive building ever purchased", in New York City at least. Though earlier today the Wall Street Journal reported that the family business was planning to buy out Vornado Realty's stake in the building.
The officials - who were not named or - were from China, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Mexico.
White House officials, including National Security Advisor HR McMaster were reportedly uncomfortable about some of Kushner's contacts, and eventually worked out a system where any contacts he had with foreign officials were to be carefully monitored.
McMaster raised questions about some of Kushner's meetings, and why there weren't people with more foreign policy experience in the room with him.
Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official.
Kushner has an unusually complex set of business arrangements and foreign entanglements for a senior White House aide, experts have said. But his behavior while in office has only drawn more scrutiny and raised concerns that he would be unable to obtain a final security clearance, which he needs to perform the many jobs Trump has entrusted to him, from negotiating foreign trade deals to overseeing a Middle East peace process.
“We will not respond substantively to unnamed sources peddling second-hand hearsay with rank speculation that continue to leak inaccurate information,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer.
White House officials said McMaster was taken aback by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts.
“When he learned about it, it surprised him,” one official said. “He thought that was weird...It was an unusual thing. I don’t know that any White House has done it this way before.”
The official said that McMaster was “not concerned but wanted an explanation. It seemed unusual to him.”
In the months since, McMaster and Kushner have worked to coordinate so that the National Security Council is aware of Kushner’s contacts with foreign officials and so Kushner has access to the council’s country experts to prepare for meetings.
Of course, as is often the case in WaPo stories, a key piece of context is buried more than a dozen paragraphs deep: The notion that foreign governments routinely discuss how they can influence senior administration officials - not just Kushner.
Foreign governments routinely discuss ways they can influence senior officials in all administrations.
“Every country will seek to find their point of leverage,” said one person familiar with intelligence intercepts of foreign officials discussing Kushner.
But Kushner came to his position with an unusually complex set of business holdings and a family company facing significant debt issues.
WaPo also said officials from the UAE identified Kushner as particularly manipulable in the spring of 2017 because of his family’s search for investors in their real estate company.
Reports that the Kushners were close to a deal with Anbang, the giant Chinese conglomerate that was recently taken over by China's insurance regulator, for a deal involving 666 Fifth Ave, raised conflict of interest concerns last year. Though Kushner's repeated amendments to his security clearance filings don't look great in retrospect.
We now wait for a reaction from the White House - or possibly from Trump himself.