Being a tangential presence to power often comes with great responsibility — unless you just avoid the questions. In an interview for the second season premiere of Axios on HBO, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner was asked to defend his boss and father-in-law, President Trump, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claims that he is racist. Unsurprisingly, Kushner’s answer was no. But when presented with details, his defense unwound with great speed.
The allegations of Trump’s racism date back many years. In 1973, the president and his company Trump Management were sued by the Department of Justice for discriminating against black renters. But by “a long time ago,” Kushner means less than a decade; even as his campaign disavowed birtherism in September 2016, Trump himself declined to do the same. And just last month, Slate reported that the Trump administration is plotting an unofficial travel ban on immigrants coming from “shithole countries,” as the president reportedly called Haiti and some African nations. In a sense, Kushner executed the only defense against claims of Trump’s racism: a hard denial, followed by rounds of sidestepping answers.
Elsewhere in the interview, Kushner balked at a question regarding his confidant on the Saudi peninsula, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Axios reporter Jonathan Swan asked if Kushner would join Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée in calling on the Saudi government to be held accountable for the body of the slain American journalist. With heavy emphasis on the passive tense, Kushner says that the death of Khashoggi was “a horrific thing that happened.” Despite reports that the CIA determined that MBS most likely ordered the murder, and that the Senate unanimously declared MBS responsible, Kushner did not commit to any action: “Once we have all the facts, then we’ll make a policy determination, but that would be up to the secretary of State to push on our policy.”
Kushner also gave a sneak preview of his plan to ensure peace in the Middle East — just one of a grab bag of policy measures the president’s son-in-law is in charge of. When asked if Palestinians are capable of governing a sovereign territory without Israeli influence, Kushner said that “the hope is, is that over time, they can become capable of governing.” Dismissing the primary demand of Palestinians as a “high bar,” it’s unlikely that Kushner’s plan, reportedly to be delivered in June, will include any major concessions from Israel.
Kushner did deliver two inarguably accurate verdicts on the Trump administration: that it brought in “people who never would’ve been in Washington before who were not qualified by conventional standards” and that the current white House has changed “how we think about America’s place in the world.” But his interpretation of those claims might differ from the 53.5 percent of Americans who disapprove of the president.