Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, flouted White House protocol by having private, informal conversations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — both before and after the widely publicized killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a Saturday report in The New York Times.
Kushner “offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm” following the journalist’s death, the Times said, citing a Saudi source. Kushner also reportedly became the prince’s “most important defender inside the White House” as the Saudi royal, often referred to by his initials MBS, faced mounting global scrutiny over his alleged involvement in the killing.
The CIA has reportedly confirmed Mohammed’s complicity in Khashoggi’s slaying. President Trump has dismissed such evidence, however, suggesting last month that even if the prince did personally order the killing, the U.S. would still maintain a close relationship with its wealthy ally.
The Times report detailed the “bromance” between Kushner and the crown prince, and the alleged years-long effort made by the Saudis to “woo” Kushner, which included a meeting with the prince’s top aides that took place the same month that Trump was elected.
White House protocol dictates that National Security Council staff should be present on all phone calls with foreign leaders. Yet, according to the Times, Kushner defied this rule and “kept chatting” privately to the prince. “The two men were on a first-name basis, calling each other Jared and Mohammed in text messages and phone calls,” the report said, citing several former White House officials.
The chummy relationship between Kushner and Prince Mohammed has come under scrutiny before. An earlier report by The Intercept said Mohammed had “bragged” about Kushner being “in his pocket.” CNN reported in October that the two men had used the chat app Whatsapp to communicate.
The White House has insisted that Kushner has toed the line in his interactions with the prince. In the immediate aftermath of the Khashoggi killing, a spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that Kushner “has always meticulously followed protocols and collaborated with colleagues regarding the relationship with [Crown Prince Mohammed] and all of the other foreign officials with whom he interacts.”
An almost verbatim statement was issued to the Times this week.
Since Khashoggi’s death, the only conversation between Kushner and Mohammed that the White House has publicly acknowledged is an Oct. 10 phone call that National Security Adviser John Bolton also sat in on.
When Kushner was asked by CNN’s Van Jones about what he said to the prince during that call, he said he had urged Mohammed to “be sure you’re transparent and to take this very seriously.”
“The world is watching,” Kushner said, recalling the advice he offered the prince. “This is a very, very serious accusation. A very serious situation.”
“We’ll see” if he takes that advice, Kushner added.