On the day the White House threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, emerged as a key conduit between the United States and Canada.
But his role has sparked a cross-border game of telephone and conflicting accounts about who called who first.
According to a White House official, aides to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Kushner urgently on April 26 after seeing news reports that Trump was considering signing an executive order withdrawing from NAFTA. Kushner, who has an expansive profile that includes foreign policy, speaks regularly to Canadian officials on a range of issues.
Kushner told his Canadian counterpart that this was a matter the leaders needed to discuss themselves, according to the White House official, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss private conversations. The Canadians asked when Trudeau should call. After checking at the White House, Kushner called back to say Trump was ready to talk now.
Trump has cited the call from Trudeau that quickly followed as the impetus for his decision to abandon the executive order and instead move to renegotiate NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. The president also wielded the call from Trudeau, as well as a separate call from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, as proof that he has leverage over the other North American leaders as negotiations begin.
But accounts of Kushner’s involvement differed Monday in Canadian media reports. According to The Canadian Press news agency, it was Kushner who first reached out to Trudeau’s chief of staff to suggest a call between the two leaders.
Kushner, who worked as a real estate executive in New York before taking a job in the White House, is seen as a more moderate influence on the president. He’s also seen as more favorable to international trade agreements like NAFTA than some White House advisers, and a phone call from him to the Canadian prime minister could be viewed as an attempt to push Trump in his direction.
A spokeswoman for Trudeau declined comment.