Smoke Signals from the Swamp: Connecting the Kushner dotsMore Info
Jared Kushner has had a couple of rocky weeks. It seems not only the entire press corps but the Special Counsel have been working overtime to do some deep digging into what Kushner and his company have been up to.
Someone leaked that our intelligence services have monitored representatives of several nations claiming Jared might be an easy mark, susceptible to influence, able to be bent and shaped because of his bag full of vulnerabilities.
The Washington Post of Feb. 27, 2018, reported: “Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.”
In the midst of his oh-so-public difficulties and the President’s growing concern about his son-in-law, Vanity Fair reports “a weakened” Jared has been dispatched to one of these countries: Mexico. You might remember candidate Trump’s near constant and scurrilous description of our neighbors to the south as criminals and rapists. Then, again and again, he promised his supporters Mexico would pay for the wall he told us we needed to protect ourselves. Somehow, in the very first days of the new administration, an enthusiastic Jared was able to convince/cajole Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to give the president another chance and come to D.C. to summit, only to watch as his father-in-law declared there wouldn’t be a meeting unless Mexico agreed in advance to pay for the wall they never wanted, blowing Jared’s first success at diplomacy to smithereens.
So I’m not sure “weakened” works here. How about a slightly humiliated, perhaps “crippled” Kushner? Vanity Fair continues: “His high-flying role as shadow secretary of state was curtailed with the arrival of Chief of Staff John Kelly, and his international profile has been blackened by the spotlight of the Mueller probe. More recently, he lost his close ally Josh Raffel, his personal media flack and crisis manager, and was stripped of the interim security clearance that had allowed him to pursue his farcically expansive White House portfolio, which has included overhauling the government’s information technology; reforming the criminal-justice system; fixing the V.A.; addressing the opioid crisis; leading Trump’s infrastructure plan; and securing peace in the Middle East. A series of recent reports about the Mueller investigation suggests that federal investigators are interested in whether Kushner has been a target of foreign intelligence, and whether his business ties had influenced his decisions during the transition and in the White House. In Mar-a-Lago last weekend, Trump reportedly surveyed his guests on how all of Kushner’s bad press was playing out.
“It is no surprise, then, that Kushner’s Wednesday goodwill trip to Mexico appears to have been even less well received than usual. ‘He is very weakened, and he is going to get weaker,’ Agustín Basave, a senior lawmaker in the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told Reuters. ‘More than anything, what he comes to say here will be contradicted by Trump the next day.’ A senior U.S. official explained that the trip was meant to smooth tensions between the two countries after a dyspeptic Trump-Peña Nieto phone call had derailed yet another planned summit. But while Kushner apparently had a good meeting with Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, with whom he has a good relationship, the First Son-in-Law’s presence rankled other Mexican officials. As The New York Times reports, the trip was announced with only one day’s warning, and without any public disclosure about what would be discussed. One senior diplomat told Reuters that officials were ‘taken by surprise by the visit and frustrated they were not informed.’”
It’s probably time to connect some Kushner dots. Back to The Washington Post’s story: “Within the White House, Kushner’s lack of government experience and his business debt were seen from the beginning of his tenure as potential points of leverage that foreign governments could use to influence him, the current and former officials said. They could also have legal implications. Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked people about the protocols Kushner used when he set up conversations with foreign leaders, according to a former U.S. official.”
As for debt, Politico reported: “Jared Kushner … appears to have drawn more money out of three separate lines of credit in the months after he joined the White House last year, a newly released document shows. Recent revisions to the financial disclosure form filed by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, bumped up each of those debts to a range of $5 million to $25 million. Versions of the couple’s disclosures made public in July valued those debts at $1 million to $5 million apiece. The loans were extended by three banks: Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Signature Bank.”
Salon, quoting the Politico article, noted that “Jared and Ivanka have gone from cumulative debt of somewhere between $19 million and $98 million to a range of $31 million to $155 million in the last year alone.”
Kushner’s need for funds has prompted a growing sense of concern. The New York Daily News wrote: “Deutsche Bank is looking at evidence that companies related to Jared Kushner may have moved ‘suspicious’ money through the German lender, according to a report. The bank has informed a national finance supervisor about the transactions and will also inform special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling, Manager Magazin, part of the Der Spiegel group, reported Friday. Reports about Mueller’s interactions with the German bank first appeared in December, when German newspaper Handelsblatt said he had subpoenaed information from the institution that has offices in New York but is based in Frankfurt.”
The Daily News continued: “Kushner Companies has done major business with Deutsche Bank, including a $285 million loan in 2016 related to its property in the former New York Times building in Manhattan. Kushner’s interactions with the bank were also the subject of a subpoena from federal Brooklyn prosecutors believed to be unrelated to the Russia investigation, according to reports last month. The bank has not commented about the content of the reported inquiries, but has said it is cooperating with authorities.
“Its financial dealings have now repeatedly come under scrutiny, and there is an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into its role in a Russian money laundering scheme for which it has paid hundreds of millions in fines to New York and British regulators. Former Trump adviser Steven Bannon also said in “Fire and Fury” the Russia investigation ‘goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner s–t.’”
There’s an interrelated question. Has Jared Kushner used his position in the White House to deal with his financial problems? The New York Times reports: “Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House. Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.
“The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper. Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.”
While the Times tells us the Apollo loan was one of the biggest loans the Kushner Company received that year, Citigroup did even better: “An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn. That loan was made in the spring of 2017, shortly after Mr. Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, according to people briefed on the meeting. The two men talked about financial and trade policy and did not discuss Mr. Kushner’s family business, one person said. There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say government ethics experts.”
The Washington Post followed up on the story: “Kushner’s legal team says he played no role in securing the loans. The lenders say standard processes were followed, with Citigroup emphasizing that a relationship existed before Kushner joined the White House. And the Kushner Companies suggested the Times was struggling to connect dots. ‘Stories like these attempt to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and companies involved,’ a spokeswoman said.”
I guess the Kushner Companies would prefer we not connect the dots.
The Washington Post continued: “But why even take part in the meetings? Why open yourself up to even suspicions of self-dealing when it involves a lender that does business with your family company? Harris was advising the White House on infrastructure policy, to be sure, but the fact that he and Kushner went so far as to discuss a White House job for Harris suggests they didn’t just happen to be in the same room. And then it’s Harris’s company that happens to give the Kushners a big loan.
“This isn’t even the first time this week that Kushner’s fast-and-loose style in the White House has come up. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Kushner for a time was speaking with foreign leaders without running the contacts through the National Security Council. And national security adviser H.R. McMaster found out from intelligence reports that at least four countries had discussed ways in which to manipulate Kushner via his complex business dealings, financial difficulties and inexperience.”
Several news outlets raised another potentially critically important aspect to this equation. There’s the possibility that Jared Kushner would have used his prodigious powers as both son-in-law and quasi-Secretary of State to apply pressure and leverage on foreign governments on behalf of his own, and his family’s financial interests.
The Washington Post writes: “During 2016, Kushner was simultaneously running his family business, Kushner Cos., and helping to oversee Trump’s campaign. One of his top business concerns was what to do with his family’s investment in 666 Fifth Ave. in New York, which the company bought under his direction for $1.8 billion in 2007, the highest price paid at the time for a U.S. office tower. The purchase became troubled as the Great Recession hit, and Kushner refinanced it, leaving the company with a $1.2 billion debt that comes due in January 2019. The Manhattan property has been a particularly nettlesome problem inside the government because Kushner’s company has sought foreign money on the project …”
Clayton Swisher and Ryan Grim of the Intercept took a look at how the Kushner Companies’ pressing need to extricate itself from this crushing debt fostered an international crisis: “The real estate firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.
“The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.
“The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.”
The President weighed in with a tweet:
But that claim was quickly disputed by the American ambassador who noted the significant progress the Qataris had made in opposing terrorism:
Let’s look at some of the implications of Kushner’s and President Trump’s actions re: the Saudi, UAE and Qatar dispute. As CNN reminds us, the United States: “happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. The sprawling base 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital of Doha is home to some 11,000 US military personnel … [and] provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations.”
This is how the New York Times of June 9, 2017, described the new tension between the U.S. and Qatar: “President Trump scrambled American diplomacy … delivering a stinging rebuke of Qatar at the very moment his secretary of state was trying to mend fences in the Persian Gulf …
“On Friday afternoon, Mr. Tillerson called for a ‘calm and thoughtful dialogue’ to resolve the deepening dispute among Sunni Muslim states in the Persian Gulf. Barely an hour later, Mr. Trump’s comments were anything but that. He accused Qatar of being a ‘funder of terror at a very high level’ and demanded that the tiny, energy-rich nation cut off that money flow to rejoin the circle of responsible nations.”
According to the Times, Tillerson continued: “‘We ask that there be no further escalation by parties in the region,’ he said just hours after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates listed 59 people and a dozen organizations linked to Qatar, including prominent Qatari businessmen, politicians and royalty, as aiding terrorism.
“The blacklisting deepened a five-day standoff that has included a cutoff of all diplomatic relations, travel and trade with Qatar, forcing the country to import critical food supplies by air from Turkey and elsewhere. Mr. Tillerson noted that the standoff has already had serious humanitarian consequences, including food shortages, family separations and children being pulled out of school. Military operations in the region have also been affected, as has the functioning of American and international businesses, he said.” (Emphasis added.)
Somehow, in one way or another, Russia seems to play a part in just about every story about the Trump Administration. The Times of June 6, 2017, began its report about this dispute by noting: “President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, taking credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, and rattling his national security staff by upending a critical American strategic relationship.”
Then the Times reported on the situation in Qatar: “But the mood there was jittery… Those jitters have been intensified by suspicions that Russia was behind a cyberattack that published fake information on Qatar’s state news agency — a claim the United States is investigating, according to an official briefed on the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official said it was unclear whether the hackers were state-sponsored.
“An American diplomat warned that there was a temptation to blame malicious acts on the Russian government before the evidence had been weighed. But the same diplomat noted that Russia had much to gain from divisions among Iran’s rivals in the region, particularly if they made it more difficult for the United States to use Qatar as a major base. ‘For sure, this is an attempt at regime change,’ said Jamal Elshayyal, a senior producer for Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned news channel that many in the region accuse of spreading extremist ideas.”
So why, in a blink of an eye, had an important ally become an enemy? Qatar, the home to one of the United States’ most critical military bases and recently having been credited by our ambassador for making progress, was now being criticized as a state sponsor of terror. NBC News reported that “Some top Qatari government officials believe the White House’s position on the blockade may have been a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about the failed deal, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Saudi Arabia and UAE have long had a rivalry with Qatar … (Emphasis added.)
“While Qatari officials were in Washington last month, they came armed with materials they said showed the UAE has worked against their government, including information involving Kushner, people familiar with the matter said. They debated for days whether to turn it over to Mueller but felt their meetings with U.S. officials had been productive and so decided against it, these people said.”
According to NBC, this issue has come to the attention of the Special Counsel: “Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, according to witnesses who have been interviewed as part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election.”
And NBC noted: “Any cooperation with Mueller’s probe from foreign nationals or government officials would mark a significant new dimension to the investigation beyond what is currently publicly known. While Kushner and his business dealings have long been a focus of the investigation, this line of questioning suggests Mueller could be building a case that directly links action he took after the election to his conduct as a senior adviser in the White House.”
Just recently, we learned that Mueller had already won the cooperation of someone who might have first-hand knowledge of some of these discussions with foreign nationals and governments: George Nader is a link not only to a critically important player in the dispute with Qatar–the United Arab Emirates–but also a link to the Trump campaign, Erik Prince and a Russian emissary of Vladimir Putin.
The Wall Street Journal headline puts it this way: “Trump Donor’s Meeting With Russian Executive Draws Scrutiny of Special Counsel Mueller.” Do you remember the strange story about the chance encounter in the Seychelles between the Russian executive and Putin associate Kirill Dmitriev and Erik Prince, the founder of the private armed force once called “Blackwater”? Prince was a significant donor to the Trump campaign and is the brother of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary. The way Prince had told the story was that he just happened to be meeting Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and his associates to discuss possible business opportunities when the prince suggested he talk to Dmitriev.
According to the Journal: “testimony earlier this year from George Nader, an adviser close to UAE’s crown prince who is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, has contradicted Prince’s account, according to the people familiar with the matter. Nader told Mueller’s investigators that he attended Prince’s meeting with the Emirati delegation and that the Emiratis didn’t make the introduction between Prince and Dmitriev, the people said. Mueller appears to be investigating whether the meeting was an effort to create a back channel between Russia and the incoming Trump administration, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.” (Emphasis added.)
The Journal also noted: “In the early months of the Trump administration, Mr. Nader visited the White House several times, discussing U.S. foreign policy toward Gulf Arab states with administration officials, including Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with the matter.”
The Post reports there was also outreach to others: “Questions have also been raised about whether Kushner discussed financing with a Russian banker. Kushner met in December 2016 with Sergey Gorkov, the top executive of Vnesheconombank. The bank has said they talked about ‘promising business lines and sectors,’ but Kushner told Congress that the meeting did not involve any discussion about his family’s company.”
The New York Times of Jan. 7, 2018, noted that: “Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Mr. Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East. Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.
“The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm. While Mr. Kushner has sold parts of his business since taking a White House job last year, he still has stakes in most of the family empire — including the apartment buildings in and around Baltimore.
“The Menora transaction is the latest financial arrangement that has surfaced between Mr. Kushner’s family business and Israeli partners, including one of the country’s wealthiest families and a large Israeli bank that is the subject of a United States criminal investigation.”
Why is this potentially problematic? The Times reports: “the deal last spring illustrates how the Kushner Companies’ extensive financial ties to Israel continue to deepen, even with his prominent diplomatic role in the Middle East. The arrangement could undermine the ability of the United States to be seen as an independent broker in the region. The Trump administration already inflamed tensions there when it said last month that it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the United States Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
“I think it’s reasonable for people to ask whether his business interests are somehow affecting his judgment,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington who specializes in government ethics and was general counsel to Senator Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.”
The Times notes: “The deal with Menora is one of many financial relationships that Kushner Companies has in Israel. In April, The Times reported that the Kushners had teamed up with at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey. The family’s best-known member, Beny Steinmetz, is the subject of a United States Justice Department bribery investigation. Mr. Steinmetz has denied any wrongdoing.
“Mr. Kushner’s company has also taken out at least four loans from Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation over allegations that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes.”
From one dot to another, one suspicious and compromised real estate deal or loan to another.
“Kushner’s overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage”
Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 27 2018, Washington Post
“Jared Kushner credit line debts increased in 2017”
Josh Gerstein, Feb. 13, 2018, Politico
“Does Jared Kushner’s massive debt make him a threat to national security?”
Heather Digby Parton, Feb. 15, 2018, Salon
“Deutsche Bank looking at ‘suspicious’ Kushner transactions”
Christopher Brennan, Jan. 19, 2018, New York Daily News
“Kushner’s Family Business Received Loans After White House Meetings”
Jesse Drucker, Kate Kelly and Ben Protess, Feb. 28, 2018, New York Times
“Is Jared Kushner using the White House as his own personal boardroom?”
Aaron Blake, March 1, 2018, Washington Post
A “Very Weakened” Kushner Goes It Alone In Mexico”
Tina Nguyen, March 8, 2018, Vanity Fair
“Jared Kushner’s real estate firm sought money directly from Qatar government weeks before blockade”
Clayton Swisher, Ryan Grim March 2, 2018, the Intercept
“Trump Team’s Shifts Jolt Some Allies and Soothe Others”
Mark Landler and Gardiner Harris, June 9, 2017, New York Times
“Qatar hosts largest US military base in Mideast”
Brad Lendon, June 6, 2017, CNN
“Mueller team asking if Kushner foreign business ties influenced Trump policy”
Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley and Robert Windrem, March 2, 2018, NBC
“Trump Donor’s Meeting With Russian Executive Draws Scrutiny of Special Counsel Mueller”
Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha, March 8, 2018, Wall Street Journal
Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role
Jesse Drucker, Jan. 7, 2018, New York Times
“Special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner’s business dealings”
Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Adam Entous, June 15, 2017, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/special-counsel-is-investigating-jared-kushners-business-dealings/2017/06/15/5d9a32c6-51f2-11e7-91eb-9611861a988f_story.html?
“Prosecutors Said to Seek Kushner Records From Deutsche Bank”
Ben Protess, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and David Enrich, Dec. 22, 2017, New York Times