Until he was stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, presidential adviser Jared Kushner was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified rundown of the latest intelligence intended only for the president and his closest advisers.
Kushner, who had been tasked with bringing about a deal between Israel and Palestine, was particularly engaged by information about the Middle East, according to a former White House official and a former U.S. intelligence professional.
In June, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin, then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and took his place as next in line to the throne, upending the established line of succession. In the months that followed, the President’s Daily Brief contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab, according to the former White House official and two U.S. government officials with knowledge of the report. Like many others interviewed for this story, they declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about sensitive matters to the press.
In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.
What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.
“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.
On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.
The Saudi Embassy did not respond to questions from The Intercept. The White House referred questions to National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton. Anton declined to comment, referring questions on Kushner’s discussions with MBS to Lowell.
It is likely that Crown Prince Mohammed would have known who his critics were without Kushner mentioning them, a U.S. government official who declined to be identified pointed out. The crown prince may also have had his own reasons for saying that Kushner shared information with him, even if that wasn’t true. Just the appearance that Kushner did so would send a powerful message to the crown prince’s allies and enemies that his actions were backed by the U.S. government.
One of the people MBS told about the discussion with Kushner was UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, according to a source who talks frequently to confidants of the Saudi and Emirati rulers. MBS bragged to the Emirati crown prince and others that Kushner was “in his pocket,” the source told The Intercept.
Access to the President’s Daily Brief is tightly guarded, but Trump has the legal authority to allow Kushner to disclose information contained in it. If Kushner discussed names with MBS as an approved tactic of U.S. foreign policy, the move would be a striking intervention by the U.S. into an unfolding power struggle at the top levels of an allied nation. If Kushner discussed the names with the Saudi prince without presidential authorization, however, he may have violated federal laws around the sharing of classified intelligence.