Kushner Testimony: Incompetence Is Not An Excuse

There’s a scene in “Casino” that I’ve always loved: Ace Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) fires his slots manager after three machines pay out jackpots one after the other, and the manager tries to argue that three wins are theoretically possible (if highly mathematically improbable). Rothstein’s response? “Listen, if you didn’t know you were being scammed, you’re too fuckin’ dumb to keep this job; if you did know, you were in on it. Either way, you’re out.” Reading the news on Jared Kushner’s statement before Congress today, I couldn’t help but think of that scene.

The ongoing deluge of reports of the Trump campaign’s meetings with Russian officials continues to lend more and more credence to the notion that the campaign colluded with a foreign adversary to achieve victory in the 2016 election. But there has been a notable silence from one of the involved parties: Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.

Kushner’s silence has been eyebrow-raising largely because, by all accounts, he has been present at many of these meetings. And yet, Kushner initially omitted more than 100 foreign contacts and over $10 million worth of assets on his federal disclosure forms. Reports have also surfaced that Kushner met with sanctioned Russian bank Vnesheconombank in December 2016 and that Kushner specifically omitted meetings with Russian foreign officials on these same forms.

To be fair, Kushner later amended his forms multiple times, but a skeptical reading might note the coincidence of his forms being updated only after reports surfaced of previously-undisclosed contacts or assets. Adding to that, Kushner currently holds a top-secret security clearance, a source of consternation among legislators.

It’s one thing for Donald Trump Jr. to have (possibly inadvertently) admitted to attempting to work with the Russian government to secure an election victory for his father; all questions of legality aside, Trump Jr.’s involvement with his father’s political career officially ended the day President Trump was sworn in. Jared Kushner, on the other hand, is a current senior member of the Trump administration with top-secret security clearance; if the accusations of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia are proven, Kushner’s involvement and his current role could represent an ongoing threat to the security of our nation.

Fortunately, Jared Kushner broke his silence today in a prepared statement before Congress. And though he offered the expected denial of any wrongdoing, there is ample reason to take his words with a meteorite of salt.

Kushner’s explanation is built upon the premise that he and his team are simply new to this “federal disclosure” thing and that any omissions were not intentional. As Politico noted, “[Kushner] paints a picture of himself as a loyal, overworked, under-experienced senior adviser to his father-in-law during a novice campaign that was never staffed up to win,” and that the omissions on his initial submission were simply the result of an unnamed assistant filing the paperwork in error before it was complete.

In other words, Kushner’s defense is that the omissions on his forms were not an attempt to disguise any wrongdoing or mislead — he and his team are just bad at their jobs. Let’s assume for a moment this is true; it almost certainly isn’t, but let’s go with it for the sake of argument. There are still a number of grave concerns that arise from this explanation.

First, in what world is an assistant permitted to send off important federal disclosure forms without first showing them to the person responsible for attesting to the veracity of the information in those forms? What assistant would think to themselves “Oh yeah, I know everyone my boss has ever spoken to, so I can fill this out, no sweat”? I’m all for not micromanaging, but it seems that a form like this would benefit from at least a cursory review process, especially considering the backlash Kushner is now facing. And if the form was sent off in error, why has Kushner revised it multiple times?

Second, Kushner’s claim requires us to believe that he was completely siloed in this process, that there was nobody else in the White House to whom he could show his forms to confirm that nothing was overlooked. Even if you accept the notion that top Trump officials are governmental neophytes unaccustomed to the bureaucratic process of federal disclosures (which seems unlikely), we’re expected to believe that there wasn’t one person who had even a passing familiarity with this process? If that’s the case, then why haven’t we heard of a rash of omissions and irregularities on the forms of other top Trump advisors like Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, et al?

Third, Kushner attempted to explain away his involvement in Donald Trump Jr.’s now-infamous meeting (wherein he actively sought assistance from the Russian government to help his father in the election) as a mere oversight. Kushner noted that he typically received 200 emails per day while on the campaign trail and often did not read through all of the emails. Okay, fine — I’ve worked in fields where I’ve been inundated with emails on a daily basis, and I know things can slip through the cracks.

But Kushner’s excuse is that he was so unbelievably busy that he couldn’t even be bothered to read the text of a roughly 100-word email (the subject line of which was “Russia - Clinton”), yet at the same time, he had no qualms about attending a meeting that, according to Kushner, the purpose of which was completely unknown to him? It strains credulity that someone so overworked would gladly drop everything to attend a meeting without first getting a quick rundown on the meeting’s topic.

But let’s say, in defiance of all reason and logic, you still don’t find anything suspicious about Kushner’s behavior. Let’s say you accept his explanation.

Kushner’s denial implies two possibilities. The first is that he didn’t understand how damaging his failure to disclose his foreign contacts would be to the Trump administration. The second is that he doesn’t understand what constitutes foreign contact; moreover, as the meeting between the Trump campaign team and Russian officials demonstrates (according to Kushner’s denial), he does not recognize when a foreign government is attempting to influence the course of American politics.

Even if we give him the full benefit of the doubt, one thing is clear: he’s too dumb to keep his job. And if he did understand, and decided that the fallout from willfully omitting his foreign contacts was preferable to disclosing the full story? Well then, we have a much larger problem.

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