A small group of White House lawyers this summer urged that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his White House role amid a broadening probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion.
Some of the lawyers worried that the presence of Kushner, a senior adviser with a broad domestic and foreign policy portfolio, created potential legal complications for Trump, while the probe threatened to limit Kushner’s ability to perform his job, these people said.
Kushner had several interactions with Russian officials in the campaign and transition that have drawn interest from investigators, and some White House lawyers warned that even casual discussions between him and Trump could spark additional scrutiny.
The debate, first reported Monday night by the Wall Street Journal, took place before a July shake-up of the legal team. The idea to press Kushner to leave was ultimately rejected.
In a statement Monday night, White House lawyer Ty Cobb blamed the disclosure of the internal debate on former White House staffers seeking to tarnish Kushner, who Cobb described as “among the President’s most trusted, competent, selfless and intelligent advisers.”
“Those whose agendas were and remain focused on sabotaging him and his family for misguided personal reasons are no longer around,” said Cobb, who was brought aboard in July to specialize in the Russia inquiry. “All clandestine efforts to undermine him never gained traction.”
John Dowd, also a Trump lawyer, confirmed Monday that the subject was raised, but said he heartily disagreed with the idea.
“That’s all I have to say about it,” he said.
Cobb declined to say which former staffers he believed were trying to undermine Kushner. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who was dismissed last month, had been a rival to Kushner in the West Wing. Bannon did not respond to requests for comment.
Other people familiar with the Trump lawyers’ debate said Kushner’s presence in the White House created risks that were logical discussion topics for the legal team as it sought to minimize risks for Trump amid a widening investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The lawyers “would have been dummies” not to consider walling the president off from another person who would become a major subject for the special counsel’s investigation, said one person briefed on the discussion. Kushner had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and also with an executive from a major Russian bank.
At the time of the lawyers’ debate, Trump’s legal team was preparing for a new revelation regarding Kushner that was about to be shared with Congress. From reviewing internal emails in preparation for answering investigators’ questions, the lawyers knew about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 that Donald Trump Jr. had arranged after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
The lawyers knew that Kushner had attended the meeting, and that he had not disclosed it when reporting his contacts with foreign individuals. The New York Times first reported on that meeting July 8.
Ashley Parker contributed to this report.