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'Washington Post' Says Foreign Officials Have Discussed How To Manipulate Kushner

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The president's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is losing his top security clearance. The Washington Post has taken that story further and has reported that at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner by taking advantage of his business arrangements and lack of foreign policy experience. To help walk us through all of this right now, we're joined by Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, who helped report this story. Welcome.

CAROL LEONNIG: Oh, I'm glad to be here.

CHANG: So what countries are we talking about here that reportedly sought or are seeking to manipulate Kushner?

LEONNIG: So the officials that were discussing the ease with which they felt they could manipulate Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico. Those are the ones we know about. And in these conversations that were overheard by U.S. officials, those foreign diplomats and foreign nationals were eyeing in particular what they viewed as the naivete of the president's senior adviser as well as his financial neediness and the financial sort of desperation of his family's company on a couple of particular projects.

CHANG: Let me let me try to understand that a little better. Jared Kushner divested his stake in his own family's business, right.

LEONNIG: Correct.

CHANG: So why are these countries reportedly trying to use the family business to exert influence on him? What's the theory?

LEONNIG: So while Jared Kushner is no longer - as a result of joining the White House team, no longer a head and controlling officer of the family company as he once was and no longer financially has a personal stake, his family's wealth depends on this company. And as it goes sour, so goes his family's fortunes. So foreign officials were discussing that in - writ large because ultimately Jared cares deeply about his family's future, and this is a company that he could return to once he leaves the administration.

CHANG: And your reporting noted that President Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, knew these alleged conversations were happening about Kushner but didn't officially report them. So when did other people in the White House start finding out about this?

LEONNIG: So we don't know exactly who knew what when in all of those months of the spring and the summer. But we do know that in those early months of the administration, H.R. McMaster, who was of course replacing the departed national security adviser Michael Flynn, started to grow concerned that Kushner was having conversations with foreign officials that he was finding out about after the fact through intercepts and intel information about those foreign officials.

CHANG: So how much of The Washington Post story about these alleged conversations among foreign diplomats about how to influence Jared Kushner - how much of that played a role in ultimately downgrading his security clearance?

LEONNIG: It's not really related.

CHANG: OK.

LEONNIG: The chief of staff, John Kelly, issued a memo - a new memo in the wake of our reporting about how many people in the White House were without security clearances, and that memo dictated that anyone who had had an interim clearance for an extended period of time would no longer have access to top-secret material. As of Friday, Jared Kushner allegedly does not have access to that same kind of closely held national secret.

CHANG: OK. Do we know how his downgraded security clearance is going to affect with job responsibilities he will have in the White House?

LEONNIG: It's still to be seen, but it seems to me it would strain credulity that you could, you know, broker Middle East peace if you weren't able to have access to top-secret materials.

CHANG: Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

LEONNIG: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.