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Kushner, Russia bombshells rock the White House

A volley of stunning rev...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 12:22 PM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 12:22 PM

A volley of stunning revelations over Jared Kushner and the Russia probe are rocking Donald Trump's inner circle and suggest a pivotal moment is at hand in the West Wing personnel wars that have raged throughout his presidency.

First, it emerged Tuesday that chief of staff John Kelly downgraded the top secret security clearance for the President's son-in-law in a bid to clear up a scandal over whether top administration players are qualified to access the most sensitive intelligence.

Then, The Washington Post published a bombshell report that at least four countries had discussed how to use Kushner's sparse experience, financial troubles and intricate business arrangements to manipulate him.

Hours later, CNN reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is asking questions about Trump's business dealings with Russia before the President's campaign, a potentially significant development in the investigation.

Triple blows

The triple blows at Trump's inner circle added to the already incredible personal, political and legal pressure heaped on the President and the strain on those staffing his turbulent presidency.

They come at a moment when Mueller's probe is gathering pace, cranking out indictments of Trump associates, and appears to be posing a more severe threat to the President, Kushner and other important associates.

The developments were more than a personal and public humiliation to Kushner, who has played an influential, if mysterious, role in the administration.

They put the sustainability of his role as a top foreign policy adviser to Trump in doubt because he will have access to far fewer government secrets and cannot see the Presidential Daily Brief, the collection of the spy community's treasures prepared for the commander in chief.

The downgrade appears to make it all but impossible for Kushner to do his job even though the White House and his lawyer say that is not the case.

But how for example can he carry out his duties running the Middle East peace process or liaising with top Gulf powers if he is not privy to the latest intelligence about his interlocutors or other key regional players like Iran?

Similarly, Kushner could find himself asked to leave sensitive meetings in the White House or force top intelligence or foreign policy officials to avoid the most sensitive subjects in meetings that he is in with the President.

"He can't see intercepted communications -- that's top secret, he's now downgraded to secret ... he can't see the most secret CIA information about their informants," said Phil Mudd, a former CIA and FBI official who is now a CNN national security analyst.

"He can't see some of the stuff our Western allies see," he added.

Ultimately, unless Kushner is cleared by the FBI to receive a permanent security clearance or gets a waiver from the President his diminished role will spur fresh speculation about his longevity as a White House staffer.

His departure and potentially that of his wife Ivanka Trump, who just controversially led a US mission to South Korea's Winter Olympics at a time of flaring nuclear tensions with North Korea, would mark a huge earthquake in Trump world.

As it is, the couple will see their "influence diminished," a GOP source close to the White House told CNN's Jim Acosta.

Fresh doubts over Kushner's position also risked reflecting poorly on Trump, given that the President made a close family member who was apparently unqualified or at risk of being compromised by foreign powers such a pivotal adviser.

After all, Trump pledged to hire the most qualified people in the world to serve in his administration, and made the alleged mishandling of classified material by his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton a key argument of his campaign.

Trump was already under ethical fire for breaking anti-nepotism conventions by hiring family members. Kushner's new troubles will make those questions even more acute.

"This is a stunning blow to President Trump," said CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali, noting that Kushner was one of the few senior advisers with whom Trump felt comfortable.

"This is a big deal ... he must be fuming," Naftali told CNN's Erin Burnett.

Foreign manipulations

The idea that key foreign countries, including Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates had acted on conversations about how to manipulate Kushner, according to current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports cited by the Post, is also a problem.

After all, the optics of a senior presidential adviser sitting down with leaders who have been publicly reported to have tried to compromise him would weaken his leverage.

The political implications of the Kushner news are less profound than the national security questions but no less intriguing.

The strike against Kushner is a bold move by Kelly who has worked to remove what he sees a distracting elements around the President -- such as former top political adviser Steve Bannon and former foreign policy aide Sebastian Gorka. But his decision to take on the President's son-in-law is the most significant and potentially risky coup yet.

Last week, Trump told reporters he would let Kelly decide what to do about his son-in-law's clearance but stressed that Kushner had done an "outstanding job." The comment was seen by many in Washington as a broad hint to Kelly that the President wanted Kushner kept in the loop.

Now any attempt by Trump to contradict Kelly's move would shatter the chief of staff's authority and make his position all but impossible. But if Kelly prevails, his decision on Kushner will be regarded as a gutsy political victory and would undercut speculation he cannot last much longer in the White House.

Signs that Mueller is looking into Trump's finances meanwhile add a layer of intensity to the drama surrounding his investigation.

The President has previously warned that he would not tolerate the special counsel seeking such information, so speculation about whether Trump will try to fire Mueller will be revived.

While there is no indication so far of any wrongdoing by Trump or collusion with a Russian election meddling effort, the report again poses the question of whether his past business dealings could have been a target for any Russian attempt to compromise him.

Any sense on the part of the President that the walls are closing in will not have been helped by Tuesday's testimony to a House committee by Hope Hicks, his communications director and close campaign aide.

CNN's Manu Raju reported that Hicks testified that she has sometimes had to tell white lies for the President, but had not lied about anything substantive.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 68293

Reported Deaths: 1944
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5656118
DeSoto368031
Harrison253036
Madison244368
Rankin229235
Jackson228843
Jones191659
Forrest182056
Washington168942
Lee147941
Lauderdale141192
Neshoba128692
Lamar122614
Oktibbeha112739
Bolivar111834
Warren109533
Lowndes108538
Panola106214
Sunflower105425
Scott100320
Lafayette98317
Copiah95728
Leflore94765
Pike93836
Holmes90049
Grenada84921
Yazoo83312
Lincoln83241
Pontotoc8308
Simpson80330
Monroe80155
Leake79025
Wayne77421
Coahoma77213
Tate73629
Marshall7019
Marion68420
Union64316
Adams62925
Winston62316
Covington62113
George5895
Pearl River55439
Newton54311
Tallahatchie53011
Attala52325
Walthall50120
Chickasaw47019
Noxubee45912
Alcorn4345
Tishomingo4216
Calhoun4209
Prentiss41710
Claiborne40913
Smith40613
Clay39714
Hancock39514
Jasper3889
Itawamba37510
Tippah36713
Tunica3517
Clarke32626
Montgomery3265
Lawrence3228
Yalobusha31510
Humphreys29411
Quitman2701
Carroll26111
Greene25512
Perry2437
Amite2356
Webster23512
Kemper23414
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21113
Stone2055
Sharkey1995
Jefferson1957
Benton1431
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena262
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99926

Reported Deaths: 1781
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13258244
Mobile10517207
Montgomery6835149
Madison544734
Tuscaloosa423076
Baldwin365125
Unassigned363064
Shelby330936
Marshall318937
Lee270047
Morgan241118
Etowah216232
DeKalb183013
Calhoun180717
Elmore173138
Walker153964
Houston141912
Russell13872
St. Clair135418
Limestone134913
Dallas133123
Franklin128820
Cullman122712
Colbert120716
Lauderdale118919
Autauga117421
Escambia108717
Talladega104814
Jackson10144
Tallapoosa86579
Chambers84438
Dale83525
Clarke82610
Blount8124
Chilton8097
Butler76736
Coffee7646
Covington73720
Pike7087
Marion58026
Barbour5765
Lowndes57324
Marengo56515
Hale47826
Bullock46611
Winston45711
Perry4454
Washington44312
Bibb4425
Wilcox43210
Monroe4215
Pickens4049
Randolph40310
Conecuh39310
Sumter36418
Lawrence3512
Macon33914
Crenshaw3265
Choctaw28712
Cherokee2758
Henry2643
Clay2635
Geneva2631
Greene25211
Lamar2292
Fayette2125
Cleburne1271
Coosa1033
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