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Jared Kushner doesn’t speak to the press very much. And on Sunday, when an interview he did with Axios’s Jonathan Swan aired, it was clear why.
Swan opened with: “It’s very clear to me you hate doing this.” Kushner replied: “It’s not my natural thing.”
The president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser answered questions through gritted teeth. He hedged on uncomfortable questions about President Trump’s views and emphasized more than once that much of his work happens behind closed doors and out of the public’s sight — which he thinks is a good thing.
Here are the highlights from the bonkers interview, which aired on Axios on HBO on Sunday night.
On whether he would tell the FBI if the Russians got back in touch, Kushner said: “It’s hard to do hypotheticals”
Swan asked Kushner about the email that he’d received from Rob Goldstone, the tabloid reporter turned publicist, that offered the Trump campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from Russians.
Kushner tried to play down the email and the meeting, first saying, “I’m sorry, which email are you talking about?”
Then: “I show up at the meeting, I stay for 15 minutes, it’s a clown show,” Kushner said. “I never would’ve thought about that meeting again.”
Asked why he didn’t just call the FBI to let them know that Russians were offering to help out the Trump campaign, Kushner maintained that the meeting was a “total waste of time” and that nothing came of it.
Then, pressed on whether he would call the FBI should the Russians get in touch again, Kushner said: “I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious.”
He doesn’t think Trump’s a racist but wouldn’t say whether birtherism is racist
Swan asked Kushner outright: “Have you ever seen [Trump] say or do anything that you would describe as racist or bigoted?”
Kushner said, “No, absolutely not.”
But pressed about birtherism — the conspiracy theory Trump peddled for five years that former President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen — Kushner dodged.
“Um, look, I wasn’t really involved in that,” Kushner said, asked about whether birtherism was racist.
“I know you weren’t,” Swan pressed. “Was it racist?”
“Like I said, I wasn’t involved in that,” Kushner said. “I was not involved in that. It was a long time ago.”
Kushner’s “not here to be trusted” by Palestinian leaders
Kushner, in his role as adviser to the White House, has taken the lead on brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. Prior administrations have tried to do the same, none with much success.
But while the U.S. has been a long and consistent backer of Israel, the Trump administration has made significant policy changes in their favor at the expense of Palestinian interests. When Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a year ago, Palestinian leaders said the U.S. could no longer be an impartial broker in the peace process. (Palestinians hope East Jerusalem will serve as the capital for their future sovereign state.)
The Trump administration has also cut all U.S. aid to Palestinians, including for hospitals.
Swan asked Kushner whether Palestinians are capable of governing themselves. “I think that’s a very good question,” Kushner said. “I think that that’s one that we’ll have to see.”
Swan pressed Kushner on whether he understands why Palestinians don’t trust him.
“Look, I’m not here to be trusted,” Kushner said. “They’re not going to judge anything based on trusting me or trusting anyone else. They’re going to judge it based on the facts and make a determination. Does this allow me to have a pathway to a better life, or not?”
Kushner said Khashoggi’s body might be returned to his family “once we have all the facts”
Swan grilled Kushner on the extent of his contacts with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, a leader who’s been accused by the CIA of orchestrating the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October.
Kushner’s been called out by the New York Times for texting the crown prince over WhatsApp, both before and after Khashoggi’s death.
“Will you join Khashoggi’s fiancée in calling on the Saudi government to release his body to his family, or identify where they’ve put the body parts so that his family, so that his loved ones, might give him if not a timely burial, at least a burial?” Swan asked.
“Look, it’s a horrific thing that happened,” Kushner said. “What we’ve done is we’ve called for full transparency.”
“Should they return the body?” Swan pressed.
“Once we have all the facts, we’ll make a policy determination,” he added.
The CIA has already concluded that the crown prince was behind Khashoggi’s murder.
Kushner said he never talked about his security clearance with Trump
That comes despite reports that Trump personally ordered Kushner’s clearance be approved against the recommendations of career officials.
“At this point after two years I’ve probably been more vetted than anyone,” Kushner said. “I have not discussed it with him.”
Kushner doesn’t think high-profile officials should be scrutinized by the press
No one is more aggrieved than the rich and successful.
Asked about Deutsche Bank looking into transactions that moved cash from companies Kushner controls to Russian individuals, Kushner dismissed the whole story as bogus and proof of an agenda against him. Also: Successful people just shouldn’t be scrutinized.
“I do think this is a terrible thing,” Kushner said. “Because you want people who have been successful in this country, who have taken advantage of the greatness of the opportunity that America provides, to go into government and to serve their country.”
“When they get harassed and they have their companies looked at and their employees have to deal with this nonsense because people want to push a narrative, I think that’s a terrible thing,” he added.
Cover: Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner attends an event where Trump signed an order recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 25 March 2019. (Credit: Michael Reynolds / Pool via CNP | usage worldwide Photo by: Michael Reynolds/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)