This Is What Kleptocracy Looks Like: Jared Kushner's Newest Gig Is a Conflict of Interest Waiting to Happen
President Trump is set to announce the creation of a new White House Office of American Innovation, with extensive powers to remake the federal bureaucracy by "harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions," according to the Washington Post.
The office, known in the White House as a "SWAT team of strategic consultants,"will be headed by the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a former (or current, depending on reports about his divestment from the family business) real estate and media executive. He has no experience in government at any level but told the Washington Post in an interview that "The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
This means pulling members from companies focusing mainly on technology and finance (like Apple, Salesforce and the Blackstone Group) who are convinced of the private sector's ability to coordinate "an aggressive, nonideological ideas factory capable of attracting top talent from both inside and outside of government, and serving as a conduit with the business, philanthropic and academic communities."
Trump is charging the team with applying private sector principles to everything from Veterans Affairs, workforce development and the technology infrastructure of federal agencies to the opioid crisis, which Trump promised to fix on the campaign trail. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be in charge.
The move gives extensive powers to private corporations that could stand to benefit financially from government contracts to run what are currently public services. Corporate titans like Stephen A. Schwarzman of Blackstone and Marc Benioff of Salesforce, gushed about the ability of the private sector to, as the Post notes, "float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements." Benioff, without a trace of irony, told the Post that Kushner reminds him of "the young, scrappy entrepreneurs in their 30s [with whom] I invest.”
Those scrappy entrepreneurs are not the president's son-in-law. Nor are they shadowy diplomats, assigned by their father-in-law to, as Jodi Kantor reported in the New York Times, "do peace" in the Middle East — a feat Trump calls "the ultimate deal."
The new office is a consolidation of Kushner's West Wing power, after weeks of behind-the-scenes struggles. The announcement comes at a time when federal agencies remain anemically understaffed, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to question Kushner on his meetings with various Russian leaders, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Whether this new office proves a welcome distraction for both remains to be seen.