Kushner's Influence in West Wing Wanes as Key Allies Depart

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(Bloomberg) -- Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are facing life in the White House with few of the key allies they’ve relied on to navigate the Washington establishment and West Wing infighting after an exodus of their closest aides in recent weeks.

The shake-up has amplified questions about whether the couple will be able to maintain a central role in President Donald Trump’s administration as it looks ahead to the crucial November midterm elections with divisive issues like guns and immigration on the agenda.

The past week has shown that they need their allies more than ever. Kushner’s security clearance was downgraded -- sidelining him from the most sensitive meetings and intelligence. And Ivanka Trump is facing similar questions about her level of access to the nation’s secrets following a high-profile meeting with South Korean officials during the Winter Olympics.

But with the announced resignation this week of longtime aide Hope Hicks and Kushner’s personal spokesman, Josh Raffel, the first daughter and son-in-law have seen their West Wing imprint fade. Other allies, including technology adviser Reed Cordish and national security adviser Dina Powell, have also recently left.

At the same time, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is gaining steam. Mueller has been known to be looking into meetings that Kushner attended and has interviewed him on a limited topic. New York banking regulators are also looking into Kushner’s business dealings.

And a pair of damaging reports emerged this week: the Washington Post said that at least four countries had been actively trying to manipulate Kushner, and the New York Times reported that his family’s company had received loans from financiers who’d recently met with Kushner.

Still, the couple has the most important ally of all on their side, the president. For Trump, who spent his career running a family business, loyalty is paramount. And with the departure of Hicks, his daughter and son-in-law have become increasingly important. Among the only top aides left who worked closely with Trump before his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate are Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, his former caddy-turned-social media manager.

In a White House shaped by its factions, having powerful backers in strategic places can be essential. Another ally, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, may leave the administration as well.

Also on the couple’s side is economic adviser Gary Cohn, though there has been speculation inside and outside the White House that he, too, may give up his post in the coming months. 

Hicks’ Role

Hicks played a crucial role for Kushner and Ivanka Trump personally and professionally. She was hired shortly after graduating from college to do public relations for Ivanka Trump’s company and was one of the first employees of the Trump campaign.

On the trail, Hicks was perpetually by the candidate’s side and from the start of the administration she directly answered media questions related to Ivanka Trump and served as her gatekeeper.

In a tweet after Hicks’ announcement, Ivanka said "Hope Hicks is loved & admired by all who know her. It’s with a heavy heart, but tremendous gratitude, that I wish her well in her next steps."

Working closely with Hicks in the press operations of the White House was Kushner spokesman Raffel, known for lashing out at reporters pursuing stories on his boss. Raffel, a former entertainment publicist, was brought in to handle communications for Kushner and Ivanka Trump in April.

Raffel had been telling friends and colleagues for the past two months that he planned to return to New York and his departure was made public on Tuesday. He is expected to leave the White House by the end of April. Ivanka Trump described his guidance as "invaluable" in a statement released by the White House.

Cold Call

Powell, who left the White House at the end of last year, was another Kushner and Ivanka Trump ally. Shortly after the election, Ivanka Trump cold-called her after her name kept coming up as someone who could offer perspective on women’s issues, a subject Ivanka Trump wanted to champion in her role as first daughter, and one Powell had worked on at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Shortly after their first conversation, Powell was offered a job in the administration. She left Goldman Sachs and her family in New York to help the Washington outsiders navigate the political and social scene. 

Well-versed on the who’s who of Washington and the operations of a White House, Powell made introductions for Ivanka Trump, was at her side for many public events and coordinated efforts around women’s issues. She helped Trump in her dealings with Congress to try to make sure a tax overhaul included a break for childcare.

Powell also became an adviser on foreign policy to Kushner, who has been working with Middle East countries on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. She was named to the National Security Council in March 2017, giving Kushner an advocate at the table.

Helping Kushner on his portfolio of domestic initiatives was Cordish, a senior adviser to Kushner and assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives. Cordish, who comes from a family of Baltimore real estate developers, is leaving his post as assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives, the White House said last Friday.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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