Facing scrutiny for cultivating close ties with Saudi Arabia’s powerful and domineering crown prince, Jared Kushner has remained intentionally in the background this week as West Wing officials feared a more public role would prompt backlash, multiple people familiar with the matter say.
Kushner instead has been operating behind-the-scenes to mitigate the fallout but leaving public explanations to others as his father-in-law’s administration confronts a full-blown diplomatic crisis over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. The prominent Saudi journalist has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago and is widely presumed dead.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser has remained involved in the administration’s efforts, two sources familiar with the matter said, quietly leveraging his close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman throughout the saga when asked and retreating to the sidelines when necessary. The sources said Kushner is wary of overstepping, mindful of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s purview as the nation’s top diplomat.
The White House declined to comment on Kushner’s role in the administration’s response to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Senior administration officials said Kushner’s close relationship with bin Salman was an early cause for concern among career national security staffers, who worried off-the-books conversations with the young prince could lead to misunderstandings or worse. Kushner is known to have messaged with the prince on the communication app WhatsApp.
But people familiar with the situation say after those concerns were raised, Kushner began notifying other members of the President’s team about his conversations and providing readouts afterward.
Publicly, Trump has downplayed Kushner’s close ties to Prince Mohammed, saying last week: “We have a lot of very close relationships with a lot of countries.”
But in private, the President has been frustrated at news coverage of the situation, including at suggestions he and his son-in-law became overly cozy with a repressive – and allegedly murderous – regime.
Kushner was walking off a flight from Washington to New York on Tuesday when a reporter seated several rows ahead of him attempted to ask about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“I don’t give a damn who you work for,” a Secret Service agent traveling with Kushner said when the reporter on the plane identified himself. “There’s a time and a place.”
That time and place didn’t appear imminent on Wednesday as the administration continued to defe