In what can best be described as an unseemly cozy consultation, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor on the Middle East, reportedly advised the besieged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to weather the storm” that followed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed on October 2, and his body destroyed by Saudi agents, the newspaper reported following accounts given to it by two former senior American officials and two people brief by the Saudis.
His murder set off an international firestorm after intelligence agencies in the United States and around the globe said mounting evidence pointed to the prince as the person who ordered the killing.
Meanwhile, the newspaper said, Kushner became Salman’s most important defender inside the White House, helping to persuade the president to avoid criticizing the Saudis for any direct role in the murder.
According to Saturday’s editions of The New York Times, citing former White House officials and others briefed by the Saudi royal court, Kushner exchanged private, first-name emails with Mohammed in the days before and after news broke of Khashoggi’s death.
The newspaper said Kushner “has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm” in the wake of the killing and to “resolve his conflicts around the [Mideast] region and avoid further embarrassments.”
During the immediate aftermath of the Khashoggi murder, Kushner stood by Mohammed and declined to criticize Saudi officials for what increasingly appeared to be their involvement in the matter.
“I’d say that right now, as an administration, we’re more in the fact-finding phase,” Kushner said at a CNN event after being told of Saudi admission that Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and 18 people had been arrested in connection with his death. “Once we have all the facts, we’ll make an assessment.”
At the time, Kushner’s explanation didn’t conform with earlier reporting about the case, including alleged intelligence provided by Turkey that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw and removed from the consulate.
In a detailed article, reporters David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler, and Mark Mazzetti, trace how Kushner and Mohammed developed their close ties, noting that Saudi Arabia saw Kushner as a viable, impressionable target to get close to the White House. The reporters describe the Saudi effort as the “courtship” of Kushner, going back to the early days of the Trump administration.
Martin Indyk, a former Middle East envoy and current Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times that the “bromance” between the two men “constitutes the foundation of the Trump policy not just toward Saudi Arabia but toward the” entire Middle East.”
At the very least, the private conversations between the two represents an off-the-book, back-door form of diplomacy that is as furtive as it is secretive.