OPED: About Jared Kushner's email problem …

Doyle McManus
Tribune News Service

Will Democrats soon be chanting "lock them up?"

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and close advisor, disclosed through his lawyer on Sunday that he has been using personal email for government business. He's not the only one. Kushner's emails were on a private server he shares with his wife, Ivanka Trump; she's on the White House staff, too. Trump's first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, economic advisor Gary Cohn, policy aide Stephen Miller and former advisor Stephen Bannon have all used private email for official work as well. And there may be more.

Wait: Isn't that what Hillary Clinton did, hobbling her presidential campaign? Pretty much — and Trump's still campaigning on it. Only last month, complaining about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, he said: "What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton's 33,000 deleted emails."

During the campaign, Trump and his allies insisted that Clinton's use of a private email server was evidence that she was hiding something illicit. Now it turns out the First Family has a personal server, too. In New York, where Trump and Kushner grew up, there's a word for that: chutzpah.

But then, this is the same Trump who criticized his predecessor, Barack Obama, for playing too much golf — and who, when Obama urged the Washington Redskins to change their name, said the president should butt out of sports and "focus on his job."

Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says it's not as bad as it looks. (He's a very good lawyer.) Lowell says Kushner has forwarded all the "non-personal" emails on his server to his government account, to make them part of official government records.

Lowell has not, however, responded to questions about whether any classified information made its way into Kushner's emails or how secure the Javanka server is — two factors that were central to the charges against Clinton. Nor is it entirely clear from Lowell's brief statement whether Kushner ever deleted emails he considered personal, another core piece of the GOP case against Clinton.

This could turn out to be a tempest in a teapot.

More: No Russia collusion, 'nothing to hide,' Kushner tells Senate

After all, the FBI found no evidence that Clinton had committed a crime, although then-Director James Comey scolded her for being "careless." It's not illegal for federal officials to use private email accounts for government business as long as they make sure no classified information leaks out, and as long as they put a copy of all their messages into official records.

Kushner and his colleagues are entitled to the presumption of innocence — a presumption Clinton was never really given last year. Still, there's no reason to cut Kushner much slack. He's already compiled a record of what looks like carelessness, at best.

When he joined the White House staff, he failed to disclose contacts with more than 100 foreign officials, including a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador. He had a conversation with the CEO of a Russian bank that was under U.S. sanctions at a time when his family real estate firm was looking desperately for loans. And he attended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised to deliver dirt on Clinton. He's earned the scrutiny he's getting from Mueller's investigators.

He'd better hope Mueller is more lenient than his father-in-law was toward Clinton, especially if it turns out that he discarded any messages.

"She deleted the emails," Trump said during the campaign. "She has to go to jail."

More: Trump calls Jr.'s Russia meeting 'standard campaign practice'

If Kushner has learned from Clinton's example, he'll want to come clean, and fast. If you want to claim you made an innocent mistake, that's the only way to make it credible. (Clinton, who rebelled against admitting error, usually fessed up only an inch at a time.)

Kushner's record on disclosure up to now hasn't met that test. He acknowledged his campaign and transition meetings with the Russians only after they were disclosed by others.

Meanwhile, here's a hypocrisy test for the rest of us: If you thought Clinton's emails were a scandal last year, can you argue now that Kushner's private server is nobody else's business? And if you thought Clinton's emails were no big deal, are you willing to give the president's son-in-law the benefit of the doubt as well?

The verdict of Richard Painter, a frequent Trump critic who was ethics chief in President George W. Bush's White House, looks about right: "Stupid, but not criminal." But stupidity and incompetence matter. In high enough places, in large enough quantities, they can bring down a presidency.

— Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com