Smoke Signals from the Swamp: The Son-in-LawMore Info
Latin was never my cup of tea but I seem to remember “Qualis pater talis filius,” which means something like “As is the father, so is the son” or “like father, like son.” Or, with a bit of latitude, “As is the father-in-law, so is the son-in-law.”
Appropriate because, as of their marriage in 2009, Jared Kushner had Ivanka, Donald’s very favorite, constantly beside him. The very same Ivanka who, with a picture of herself in white and Jared in a tux on the ubiquitous Instagram, most recently shared a celebratory incantation to Jared with the rest of us: “Happy eight-year anniversary to the love of my life!”
Steve Betoni in Forbes: “‘Jared and my father initially bonded over a combination of me and real estate,’ Ivanka Trump says in her Trump Tower offices as dark-suited Secret Service agents stand watch in the halls. ‘There’s a lot of parallels between Jared as a developer and my father in the early years of his development career.’”
In the Kushner/Trump world, love and business intersect. As Business Insider reminds us: “Trump and Kushner met in 2007, at a networking lunch arranged by Trump’s longtime business partner, who thought they could do deals together. ‘The best deal we ever made!’ Trump says of their meeting.”
Many commentators have had a difficult time pinning down the president. His opinions/policies change with the wind. I’ve discovered Son-in-Law is equally elusive. Like his overly-ambitious portfolio, he seems to have his fingers looking for money in just about every pot of gold. So while there is a lot here, I admit there’s a lot more to look at.
Like his father-in-law, Jared’s story begins with his father, Charles’, real estate business. Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker tells us about Jared’s father: “Charles, known as Charlie, was a risk-taker, unafraid of loans and leverage. In less than ten years, he created his own firm, Kushner Companies, and made it into one of the largest private landlords on the East Coast, with assets worth an estimated billion dollars, and including twenty-two thousand apartments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, commercial properties, an insurance company, and a bank …
“[He] was generous, making large donations to charities. ‘If you met him right now, you’d walk away saying, “He’s the most charming, nicest person I’ve ever met,” an associate told me. But Charlie had another side, which former associates describe as ‘threatening,’ ‘nasty,’ and ‘vindictive.’ One former Kushner Companies executive said, ‘If you pissed him off, it was like somebody gave him drugs. He was like an animal, cursing and foaming at the mouth.’
“A disciplined man who avoided the press, Kushner was no Trump. But he had Trumpian qualities, such as a tendency to withhold payment from venders like contractors, cleaners, and architects, forcing them to accept a fraction of their fee. The former Kushner Companies executive told me, ‘Every week we’d have meetings at Charlie’s house, and we’d go through the bills — the larger bills and corporate bills. And he’d sign them, or he’d say, “Offer them forty per cent.” Or “Offer them fifty per cent.” This was a cost-saving measure, not unheard of among developers. It was, “Why pay someone a hundred per cent when you could pay a lot less?”
Not the most impressive of students, some suggest that it was Charles’ $2.5 million gift that earned Jared admission in 1999 to Harvard University.
A former official at the Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told Daniel Goldin: “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard … His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”
Katherine Clarke, in the Feb. 1, 2014, issue of the Real Deal (TRD), reveals: “While in college, Kushner began acquiring small multi-family buildings in Somerville, Mass. On his first deal, his father put up half the cash and Kushner raised the remainder from family friends. ‘I’d be in class, and I’d get a call about a broken toilet and have to go work with the super at one of my buildings,’ Kushner recalled.
“‘The funniest part was, I didn’t have a car, so I’d have my contractor, who was this six-foot-five Guatemalan guy named Nelson, pick me up at my dorm in his Dodge Ram pickup truck and take me to the jobs,’ he said. ‘We would go in, and I’d be saying to him, “Why is this taking so long? It’s gotta cost less. We’ve got to do this better.” Then, I’d have to say, ‘Can I have a ride home now?’”
Perhaps the really “funniest part” of this story, Helin Jung of Cosmopolitan tells us, is that while at Harvard “Jared reportedly drove a Range Rover … And ‘he didn’t do it with a sense of humor,’ a classmate told the New Yorker, ‘He did it, like, I’m fucking rich.'”
According to TRD: “As an intern at SL Green when he was 20 and still at Harvard, Kushner was taken under CEO Marc Holliday’s wing … Holliday said, ‘Jared stands out … Even at that age, he was different,’ Holliday said. ‘He definitely warranted more attention. You could see the ambition in his eyes and that he was going places.’”
Widdicombe reminds us that, following the 2002 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Charles Kushner was nominated “to be the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position that would have put the developer in charge of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, controlling billions of dollars in state contracts.
“It was bad timing: the family had started to unravel. Charlie’s older brother, Murray, filed a lawsuit, accusing him of mismanagement. Then a former Kushner Companies accountant, Bob Yontef, sued, alleging that Charlie’s political and charitable contributions came from company money. Itemized in Yontef’s complaint is a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand-dollar fee that was paid to Bill Clinton, who spoke at a luncheon for executives of the bank that Kushner Companies owned.”
So, Daniel Golden notes: “Five years after Jared entered Harvard, the elder Kushner pleaded guilty in 2004 to tax violations, illegal campaign donations, and retaliating against a witness. (As it happens, the prosecutor in the case was Chris Christie, recently ousted as the head of Trump’s transition team.) Charles Kushner had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, who was cooperating with federal authorities. Kushner then had a videotape of the tryst sent to his sister. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.”
According to Helin Jung: “Jared was studying to get a dual MBA and law degree at New York University (father Charles’s alma mater and the recipient of another notable donation of $3 million) when his father was sent to prison … Jared took over Kushner Companies as CEO in 2008 when he was 27 years old, abandoning his legal aspirations. ‘My dad’s arrest made me realize I didn’t want to be a prosecutor anymore,’ Jared told The Real Deal in 2014. ‘Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him. I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong. The moral weight of that was probably a bit more than I could carry.’” (Emphasis added.)
Katharine Clarke writes: “Kushner’s appointment as CEO came a year after the company’s biggest-ever deal, the $1.8 billion acquisition of 666 Fifth Avenue. The firm had bought the 1.45-million-square-foot office tower at the height of the market, and then watched as its value plummeted when the recession hit. By 2008, the cash flow was only covering 69 percent of the building’s debt service. Lenders were banging on Kushner’s door.
“‘He had to grow up really fast,’ Mike Fascitelli, the former CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, which eventually came in as a partner on the building, told TRD. ‘The five years [following his father’s arrest] were like dog years. He might have been young going in, but he came out an adult.’”
Katherine Clarke continues: “The company was one of the most active buyers of multi-family apartments in the country between 2010 and 2013, buying more than 12,000 units, including 60 walk-up buildings in Manhattan. Adding to its commercial portfolio, the company also snapped up two office buildings in 2013, one in partnership with Extell Development Company, the other with private equity firm CIM. And Kushner sold an office building at 200 Lafayette Street in September for $150 million after purchasing it for just $50 million with CIM in 2012.
“In perhaps its most high-profile deal last year, Kushner Companies partnered with Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding to buy a $375 million six-building complex in Dumbo [Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass] from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The two companies, in conjunction with Asher Abehsera’s LIVWRK, are planning on transforming the buildings into an office hub for tech and creative firms. Kushner’s active deal making and partnerships with established players have propelled him out of his father’s shadow for the first time, sources said.”
Ivanka, Clarke reminds us, is one of Jared’s biggest fans: “There’s little separation, it seems, between the couple’s work and personal lives. In between time with their children, Trump said the couple often walks construction sites and talks shop. ‘At 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, we’ll be walking through units at the Puck Building that are under construction because he’s showing me their level of finish,’ Trump said. ‘Jared is able to transition seamlessly from a call about a deal he’s working on to building magnetic tiles with Arabella.’”
As for deal-making, it seems Kushner sometimes pushed the ethical envelope. The Washington Post reported on a deal in Jersey City, New Jersey: “Jared Kushner and his real estate partners wanted to take advantage of a federal program in 2015 that would save them millions of dollars as they built an opulent, 50-story residential tower in this city’s booming waterfront district, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.
“There was just one problem: The program was designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas. So the project’s consultants got creative, records show. They worked with state officials in New Jersey to come up with a map that defined the area around 65 Bay Street as a swath of land that stretched nearly four miles and included some of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. At the same time, they excluded some wealthy neighborhoods only blocks away.
“The tactic — critics liken it to the gerrymandering of legislative districts — made it appear that the luxury tower was in an area with extraordinarily high unemployment, allowing Kushner Companies and its partners to get $50 million in low-cost financing through the EB-5 visa program.”
The EB-5 visa program is an aspect of American immigration policy that’s not often talked about by the Trump administration. No refugees fleeing Latin American dictators or poor Mexican families desperate for a better life, these are Trumpian gold-star immigrants who jump to the top of the list with cold cash. The Washington Post explains: “A wealthy foreigner can get a fast-track residence visa by investing at least $500,000 in a project in a ‘targeted employment area.’ To qualify, the area must have an unemployment rate 1.5 times the national average. For developers, the terms of the investment are more favorable than a bank loan.” (Emphasis added.)
“On the south side of Jersey City, which has some of the most entrenched poverty in the New York City region, many people interviewed one day last week were surprised that their neighborhood’s troubles were part of the reason that 65 Bay Street got cheap financing … ‘That’s very sad,’ said Pastor Shyrone Richardson of the World Outreach Christian Church’ … His neighborhood seems a world away from the gleaming office towers and trendy cafes that surround 65 Bay Street …Apartments in the Bay Street building, marketed as Trump Bay Street, rent for up to $4,700 a month and offer sweeping views of Lower Manhattan.”
According to Katherine Clarke: “One of Kushner’s best traits, according to his wife: his sense of calm in the face of a crisis. She witnessed that when he was dealing with the collapse of the company’s Fifth Avenue deal. ‘Jared does not show stress, almost to the point where you might think he doesn’t experience it — but that wouldn’t be human,’ she said. ‘He doesn’t react in an emotional way to circumstances; he’s thinking about solutions. I’m in awe of him in that regard.’”
Remember when Jared left studying the law because he didn’t want to “cause pain to the families”? I suspect there are many tenants living in Kushner’s Baltimore, Maryland, apartments who’d tell you that Jared is, in fact, causing real pain to their families. Doug Donovan of the Baltimore Sun reports: “The real estate company owned by Jared Kushner… has been the most aggressive in Maryland in using a controversial debt-collection tactic: getting judges to order the arrest of people who owe his company money.
“The Kushner Cos. have nearly 9,000 units in Maryland, most of them in Baltimore County. They generate at least $90 million in revenue annually … and at least $30 million in profit, according to financing documents provided to investors who hold the mortgages. Since 2013 … corporate entities affiliated with the firm’s 17 apartment complexes in the state have sought the civil arrest of 105 former tenants for failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt … that’s more than any other landlord in the state over that time … Court records show that 20 former Kushner tenants have been detained …”
According to Donovan, “at least some tenants who have been targeted say they did not receive proper notice of the court appearances they were accused of missing … Maryland State Senator William C. Smith declared: ‘People are being arrested for a debt that they may not even be aware of, or for a court date they may not have been aware of … [has] a devastating effect.’ ”
Kushner affiliates have filed at least 1,250 legal actions in the state since 2013. Judges have awarded a total of $5.4 million in judgments against tenants who owed an average of $4,400, the Sun’s analysis shows. “In nearly all of those cases, judges have approved the garnishment of tenants’ wages and property, actions that have helped the Kushner-controlled companies collect $1 million so far, that data show.”
I suspect Jared and Ivanka Trump are living quite a different life than Priscilla Moreno. “Priscilla Moreno, a Baltimore County school bus driver who works part time in video production, narrowly avoided arrest last year. She and her three children were living in Whispering Woods, a Middle River community of 524 apartments, when she received a federal voucher that she thought would help improve her housing. She decided to move out. Then the Kushner affiliate JK2 Westminster hit her with a $7,100 judgment in 2015. She says it did not credit her security deposit and included charges she disputes.
“‘They were charging me for things that were carpet cleaning,’ said Moreno, 44. ‘Normal wear and tear.’ The original alleged debt was $4,637.76. With lawyers’ fees, interest and court costs, it grew to $7,100. A Baltimore County District Court judge approved a body attachment for Moreno last July. She avoided arrest by filing for federal bankruptcy, a step taken by at least a dozen other former tenants sued by Kushner affiliates.”
Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast notes that, in December 2017, several tenants filed a class action suit alleging “that Westminster Management, a company owned by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, charged its tenants improper fees, and then used their failure to pay those fees as a basis to threaten them with eviction.
“According to the suit, Westminster Management charged late fees that are higher than allowed by Maryland state law. One plaintiff said that when she paid a check, the company responded that she needed ‘to pay an additional $150 in fees or they wouldn’t take my rent’ … According to Kushner’s latest financial disclosure forms, Westminster Management remains a source of income, bringing him nearly $1.5 million in income for gross management fees and wages.”
On Feb. 9, 2018, Alec MacGillis reported that “Jared Kushner’s family real estate company has backtracked on its effort to have a lawsuit filed against it by tenants of its Baltimore-area apartment complexes moved to federal court, after a judge ruled that this transfer would require it to reveal the identities of its investment partners … The Kushner affiliates also filed a motion in federal court seeking to have the list of the investment partners shielded from public view, citing the high degree of media interest in Jared Kushner …”
While he wasn’t terribly interested in solutions for his tenants, he was quite committed to problem-solving for his father-in-law. According to Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker, such deep love and/or deal-making with Ivanka prompted Jared Kushner to “become what the Times described as Trump’s ‘de facto campaign manager.’ He has acted as a liaison with dozens of influential figures, including Henry Kissinger, Paul Ryan, Rupert Murdoch, and, until recently, Roger Ailes. Ivanka has counseled Trump on his rhetoric and his policy choices, and Jared was instrumental in the running-mate selection.”
With all the talk about the varied skills of Corey Lewandoski, Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon, who took turns steering the Trump campaign, many were surprised by the title of the Nov. 22, 2016, Forbes article: “How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House.”
According to Steve Betoni: “Kushner went all-in with Trump last November after seeing his father-in-law pack a raucous arena in Springfield, Illinois, on a Monday night. ‘People really saw hope in his message,’ he says. ‘They wanted the things that wouldn’t have been obvious to a lot of people I would meet in the New York media world, the Upper East Side or at Robin Hood [Foundation] dinners.’ And so this Harvard-educated child of privilege put on a bright-red Make American Great Again hat and rolled up his sleeves.
“… like Trump he’s primarily a real estate guy, but he had invested more broadly, including in media (in 2006 he bought the New York Observer) and digital commerce (he helped launch Cadre, an online marketplace for big real estate deals). More important, he knew the right crowd: co-investors in Cadre include [Paypal’s Peter] Thiel and Alibaba’s Jack Ma — and Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, a formidable venture capitalist who also cofounded the $2.7 billion insurance unicorn Oscar Health.”
According to Bertoni: “… interviews with him and a dozen people around him and the Trump camp lead to an inescapable fact: The quiet, enigmatic young mogul delivered the presidency to the most fame-hungry, bombastic candidate in American history. ‘It’s hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared’s role in the campaign,’ says billionaire Peter Thiel, the only significant Silicon Valley figure to publicly back Trump. ‘If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer.’
“‘Jared Kushner is the biggest surprise of the 2016 election,’ adds Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, who helped design the Clinton campaign’s technology system. ‘Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources.’ … by running the Trump campaign — notably, its secret data operation — like a Silicon Valley startup, Kushner eventually tipped the states that swung the election … Clinton did borrow from Obama’s playbook but also leaned on traditional media. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, delved into message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning. The traditional campaign is dead, another victim of the unfiltered democracy of the Web — and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it …
“‘I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff,’ Kushner says. ‘They gave me their subcontractors … I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting … The Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000, generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards — and proving a concept. In another test, Kushner spent $160,000 to promote a series of low-tech policy videos of Trump talking straight into the camera that collectively generated more than 74 million views.
“By June the GOP nomination secured, Kushner took over all data-driven efforts. Within three weeks, in a nondescript building outside San Antonio, he had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting. Run by Brad Parscale, who had previously built small websites for the Trump Organization, this secret back office would drive every strategic decision during the final months of the campaign.
“Kushner’s crew was able to tap into the Republican National Committee’s data machine, and it hired targeting partners like Cambridge Analytica to map voter universes and identify which parts of the Trump platform mattered most: trade, immigration or change. Tools like Deep Root drove the scaled-back TV ad spending by identifying shows popular with specific voter blocks in specific regions — say, NCIS for anti-ObamaCare voters or The Walking Dead for people worried about immigration. Kushner built a custom geo-location tool that plotted the location density of about 20 voter types over a live Google Maps interface.
“Soon the data operation dictated every campaign decision: travel, fundraising, advertising, rally locations — even the topics of the speeches. ‘He put all the different pieces together,’ Parscale says. ‘And what’s funny is the outside world was so obsessed about this little piece or that, they didn’t pick up that it was all being orchestrated so well.’” (Emphasis added.)
In the weeks to come I’ll delve more deeply into the fascinating nexus of Jared Kushner, Robert and Rebekah Mercer and their Cambridge Analytica, and the successful efforts of Russian hackers and Russian bots. In the meantime, let’s return to our attempt to better understand the elusive Jared Kushner.
So it was that his deep love for Ivanka, and his dedication to the dreams of father-in-law, has landed Jared Kushner in the White House, sporting an ambitious portfolio that includes forging Mid-East peace, re-invigorating American enterprise, making government more efficient and mitigating the opioid crisis.
And, according to Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” “clearly in addition to helping Donald, Jared – and Ivanka – had been bitten by the bug of political ambition … The First Children couple were having to navigate Trump’s volatile nature just like everyone else in the White House. And they were willing to do it for the same reason as everyone else — in the hope that Trump’s unexpected victory would catapult them into a heretofore unimagined big time. Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew.
“It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Jared and Ivanka had made an earnest deal amongst themselves: If sometime in the future the time came, she’d be the one to run for president (or the first one of them to take the shot). The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton, it would be Ivanka Trump.” (Emphasis added.)
“The truth was, Ivanka and Jared were as much the chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. The couple had opted for formal jobs in the West Wing, in part because they knew that influencing Trump required you to be all-in. From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him …”
So, along with his significant desire to help the father-in-law, it appears that Jared had a clear and powerful attraction to power. An apparent desire for much, much more than the perks that would accompany his status as simply the First Son-in-Law. If Wolff is to be believed, there was the dream of House-Husband to President Ivanka, then his rightful turn as the Main Man.
But so much of this has now been endangered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his pesky Russia investigation. Who, in the course of not only tracking the paths of the meddling Russians, was also following the money and had begun to develop an increasing interest in Kushner’s financial dealings.
As the Washington Post reported June 15, 2017: “Investigators were scrutinizing meetings that Kushner held with Russians in December — first with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and then with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a state-owned Russian development bank …
“At the December meeting with Kislyak, Kushner suggested establishing a secure communications line between Trump officials and the Kremlin at a Russian diplomatic facility, according to U.S. officials who reviewed intelligence reports describing Kislyak’s account. The White House has said that the subsequent meeting with the banker was a pre-inauguration diplomatic encounter, unrelated to business matters. The Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has said the session was held for business reasons because of Kushner’s role as head of his family’s real estate company. The meeting occurred as Kushner’s company was seeking financing for its troubled $1.8 billion purchase of an office building on Fifth Avenue in New York, and it could raise questions about whether Kushner’s personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.”
The Washington Post reported: “[He] has sold only 10 percent of assets within his vast real estate empire … when he joined his father-in-law’s administration. But he still owns stakes in numerous limited liability companies that often do not have any employees, offices, websites or operations that would make their purpose readily apparent. Some are owned through generic registered-agent offices in Dover, Del., and function as holding companies for other assets.” (Emphasis added.)
Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider added: “Kislyak was reportedly ‘taken aback’ by Kushner’s request because it posed significant risks for the Trump team and the Kremlin. But he passed along the request to Moscow, which is how it got picked up by US intelligence officials. Kushner said in his statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee that the communications channel was meant to discuss the US’ and Russia’s Syria policy. ‘I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn,’ Kushner wrote. ‘The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred.’”
The Washington Post commented: “Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than rely on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naiveté. The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and maintains near-constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.
“Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that though Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary. ‘How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?’ said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause ‘a great deal’ of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, ‘seems extremely naïve or absolutely crazy.’
And it is important to note that “Kushner’s interactions with Russians — including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions — were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.”
As for Kushner’s meeting with the Russian banker, Bertrand wrote: “Kislyak reportedly orchestrated the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov, who was appointed by Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team … Reuters reported earlier this year that the FBI is examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’ business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.” (Emphasis added.) Ah the sanctions!
Reuters writes “Jared Kushner … had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters … By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources – one current and one former law enforcement official.
“FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn’s contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said. Kushner’s was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president’s son-in-law’s dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.
Reuters notes that the head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, is a trained Russian intelligence officer, and that “the bank is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case in which one of its New York executives pleaded guilty to spying and was jailed.”
These meetings were so troubling, according to Bertrand, that a “Member of President Donald Trump’s legal team wanted his son-in-law Jared Kushner to resign from his position as a senior adviser because of his controversial meetings with Russian nationals during the election and his initial failure to disclose them on his security clearance form, according to the Wall Street Journal.”
There are additional concerns that Kushner’s varied financial interests and his political/religious biases might have created conflicts with his new role as a public official. Newsweek reported “Jared Kushner failed to disclose his role as a co-director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, a time when the group funded an Israeli settlement considered to be illegal under international law, on financial records he filed with the Office of Government Ethics earlier this year. (Emphasis added.)
“The latest development follows reports on Friday indicating the White House senior adviser attempted to sway a United Nations Security Council vote against an anti-settlement resolution passed just before Donald Trump took office, which condemned the structure of West Bank settlements. The failure to disclose his role in the foundation—at a time when he was being tasked with serving as the president’s Middle East peace envoy—follows a pattern of egregious omissions that would bar any other official from continuing to serve in the West Wing, experts and officials told Newsweek.”
Buzzfeed on Dec. 1, 2017, reported: “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, called Michael Flynn in December 2016 and told him to call members of the UN Security Council in an effort to stop a vote on a resolution critical of Israeli settlement policy, according to a person who was present in the room when Flynn took the call.
“Flynn then called Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States to seek his assistance, and later lied to the FBI about having done so, according to documents filed in federal court Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller that explained Flynn’s guilty plea of lying to federal agents. The documents do not say on whose behalf Flynn contacted Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, identifying the person only as “a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team.”
“But a Trump transition official who was in the room where Flynn took a call regarding the upcoming UN Security Council vote said Flynn identified the caller as Kushner. ‘Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,’ the person said. If confirmed, that call would bring prosecutors one step closer to Kushner, who also serves as a senior adviser to Trump.
Kushner, the source said, told Flynn during the phone call that ‘this was a top priority for the president.’” (Emphasis added.)
Bertrand noted: “The move may have violated over the 200-years-old law called the Logan Act, which bars ‘unauthorized citizens’ from negotiating with ‘foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.’ Flynn’s guilty plea appears to indicate he’s cooperating with Mueller’s team and could be willing to shed more light on how critical decisions were made throughout the transition, as well as on Russia’s impact in the 2016 presidential election.”
The Wall Street Journal provides more context about the UN resolution: “Israeli officials had asked the incoming Trump administration to intervene to help block it … Among those involved were Mr. Kushner and political strategist Stephen Bannon, according to people briefed on the exchanges. The Mueller team’s questions come as investigators scrutinize Mr. Kushner for his initial omission of any foreign contacts from a government form required to obtain a security clearance, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. Mr. Kushner later updated the form at least three times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with more than 20 countries.
“Mr. Kushner has said the initial omissions were an “administrative error.” His lawyer on Friday declined a request by the Senate Judiciary Committee to provide documents surrounding the submission of the form, and subsequent updates to it, saying they were confidential government records.”
Now we know that Kushner was looking for any financial help he could garner, not only for 666 Fifth Ave., but for other real estate investments. The UK Guardian wrote: “Jared Kushner … secured a multimillion-dollar Manhattan real estate deal with a Soviet-born oligarch whose company was cited in a major New York money laundering case now being investigated by members of Congress. A Guardian investigation has established a series of overlapping ties and relationships involving alleged Russian money laundering, New York real estate deals and members of Trump’s inner circle. They include a 2015 sale of part of the old New York Times building in Manhattan involving Kushner and a billionaire real estate tycoon and diamond mogul, Lev Leviev.
“The ties between Trump family real estate deals and Russian money interests are attracting growing interest from the Justice Department’s Special Counsel, Robert Mueller … [who] has reportedly expanded his inquiry to look at real estate deals involving the Trump Organization, as well as Kushner’s financing.”
Coincidences abound. Leviev, the so-called “king of diamonds,” was a partner of the Russian-owned company at the heart of the Magnitsky Affair, Prevezon Holdings, whose attorney was none other than Natalia Veselnitskaya. Magnitsky, you might remember, died in one of Putin’s prisons after investigating a multi-million-dollar theft and money-laundering scheme. It was after Magnitsky’s death that the Obama administration levied sanctions on the Russians. And it was Veselnitskaya who, with others, attended the now notorious Trump Tower meeting with Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. Remember the June 3, 2016, email from Rob Goldstone: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
And not surprisingly, Donald Trump Jr. replied enthusiastically to Rob Goldstone who arranged the meeting: “If it’s what you say, I love it especially later in the summer.” The meeting, Veselnitskaya now claims, was about Russian adoptions.
Oh, and yet another very interesting coincidence: the Guardian notes that Prevezon was at “the center of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit launched in New York. Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump in March, prosecutors pursued Prevezon for allegedly attempting to use Manhattan real estate deals to launder money stolen from the Russian treasury.”
The Guardian offers additional analysis: “Separately, the focus of investigators on Trump family finances stem from the vast flow of Russian wealth that has been poured into New York real estate in recent years. As Donald Trump Jr. put it in 2008, referring to the Trump Organization: ‘We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’
“Among the overlapping connections is the 2015 deal in which Kushner paid $295m to acquire several floors of the old New York Times building at 43rd street in Manhattan from the US branch of Leviev’s company, Africa Israel Investments (AFI), and its partner Five Mile Capital. The sale has been identified as of possible interest to the Mueller investigation as Kushner later went on to borrow $285m in refinancing from Deutsche Bank, the German financial house that itself has been embroiled in Russian money laundering scandals and whose loans to Trump are coming under intensifying scrutiny.”
While many people have commented on Kushner’s contact with Russians and the deep connection of Russian money to the New York real estate market, Adam Entous and Evan Osnos of the New Yorker look to the East: “In early 2017, shortly after Jared Kushner moved into his new office in the West Wing of the White House, he began receiving guests. One visitor who came more than once was Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, a veteran diplomat with a postgraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University. When, during previous Administrations, Cui had visited the White House, his hosts received him with a retinue of China specialists and note-takers. Kushner … preferred smaller gatherings …
“But Cui’s frequent encounters with Kushner made some people in the U.S. government uncomfortable. On at least one occasion, they met alone, which counterintelligence officials considered risky. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,” a former senior U.S. official who was briefed on the meetings said.
Entous and Osnos point out a difference between Russian and Chinese intelligence operations: “‘The Chinese influence operations are more long-term, broader in scope, and are generally designed to achieve a more diffuse goal than the Russians’ are,’ Christopher Johnson, a former CIA analyst who specializes in China, said. ‘To be unkind to the Russians, you’d say they are more crass.’
“Kushner often excluded the government’s top China specialists from his meetings with Cui, a slight that rankled and unnerved the bureaucracy. ‘He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,’ a former member of the National Security Council said. Some officials who were not invited to Kushner’s sessions or briefed on the outcomes resorted to scouring American intelligence reports to see how Chinese diplomats described their dealings with Kushner. Other U.S. officials spoke to Cui directly about the meetings. Kushner was ‘their lucky charm,’ the former N.S.C. member said. ‘It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.’ (A spokesman for Kushner said that none of the China specialists told him that ‘he shouldn’t be doing it the way he was doing it at the time.’)
So exactly what have the Chinese gained with the ascendance of the Trump regime? How has Kushner’s compliance helped them? Well, how about the stark reality that the Trumpian policy of “America First” has resulted in the extraordinary retreat of the United States from the global marketplace? Insisting that America has gotten the worst of multiple multilateral trade deals while withdrawing from international treaties and trade agreements, President Trump has created a vacuum the Chinese have filled with remarkable speed and adeptness.
And how might this have coincided with the interests of the Kushners? Back to the New Yorker profile: “We’ve previously discussed the fifty million dollars in Chinese funds for his Jersey City project but Kushner was also an investor, alongside prominent Chinese and Hong Kong businessmen, in multiple companies. He and a brother, Joshua Kushner, co-founded Cadre, a real-estate investment firm, which received funding from David Yu, a co-founder of a private-equity firm with Jack Ma of Alibaba. (The scope of investors behind Kushner projects is unknown, because the company does not disclose the names.) Ivanka Trump has her own business endeavors in China, where some of her branded handbags, shoes, and clothes are manufactured.”
A New York Times article of Dec. 22, 2017, reveals: “Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have sought bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to four people briefed on the matter.
‘EB-5 is a longstanding federal program that is frequently used by many large developers to raise funds and help create jobs,’ Kushner Companies’ general counsel, Emily Wolf, said in a previous statement. ‘Kushner Companies utilized the program, fully complied with its rules and regulations and did nothing improper.’
“In recent weeks, prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the giant German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner family real estate business.
“The Kushner family has longstanding ties to Deutsche Bank. A financial disclosure form that Mr. Kushner filed with the government shows he and his mother have a line of credit from Deutsche Bank worth $5 million to $25 million. The bank also provided a $285 million mortgage to Kushner Companies last year to help it refinance a loan to purchase several floors of retail space in the former New York Times building on 43rd Street in Manhattan.”
We previously wrote about Kushner, 666 Fifth Avenue and the Russian bank Vnesheconombank. According to Entous and Osnos: “as the head of his family’s business, he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totaling hundreds of millions of dollars … Demand for office space had fallen short, and he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building’s finances.
“On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu’s possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.
“In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business in an interview, Trump mused about giving up the “One China” policy and recognizing Taiwan’s government, in Taipei. Chinese officials turned to the man that Kissinger had recommended to them: Jared Kushner. Kushner later told others that he took on the China portfolio reluctantly, after “clamoring” Chinese officials called Trump Tower and asked for him by name.
“On December 9th and 10th, Cui Tiankai and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, visited Kushner at his office at 666 Fifth Avenue …
“Laying out China’s hopes and ambitions for its relations, Cui urged the U.S. to expand military-to-military exchanges and to endorse the Belt and Road Initiative, a foreign infrastructure campaign intended to expand Chinese influence abroad … After Trump’s Inauguration, on January 20th, Kushner’s contacts with Cui intensified. They met again on February 1st, and, that day, Ivanka took her daughter, Arabella, to a lunar New Year celebration at the Chinese Embassy. Later that month, Kushner persuaded Trump to back off his threat to abandon the “One China” policy. Kushner also passed along proposals from Cui to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who made his first official trip to Beijing in March. During the visit, Tillerson startled China experts by adopting some of Beijing’s official phrases, including ‘mutual respect,’ which is often interpreted as reinforcing China’s claims over disputed waters in Asia.
“Kushner and Cui also met repeatedly to prepare for Trump’s first meeting with China’s President, Xi Jinping, on April 6th, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort …. [and] according to [Daniel Russel, who, until last March, was the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs] ‘Jared Kushner was described as adamant that Mar-a-Lago should be exclusively about bonding … We were told that the theory was to first establish a warm family friendship, using meals and Trump’s personal charisma.’
“In the event, China overwhelmingly achieved its objectives: a soft-focus summit with regal photo ops and little talk of trade and other touchy subjects. It was also an auspicious occasion for the Kushner family. While Xi met with Trump, Beijing regulators approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, to sell bags, jewelry, and spa services. Ivanka is also an adviser to the President, and her deals with the Chinese were hardly unusual. Since Trump assumed office, the Chinese government has approved scores of trademark applications by the Trump Organization.
“Kushner was proud of his role in the summit, telling a person close to him, “People say we ought to do things the way they always have been done, with the same approaches. Somebody with more experience, tied to the old ways, may not have necessarily been able to pull off the Mar-a-Lago summit like we did.” He added that the officials who have criticized his approach to foreign affairs “usually get pretty uncomfortable when they’re not in control of something and it doesn’t go the way they want.”
For all the concern about Russian attempts to influence Trump officials, there’s been less focus on other efforts to change U.S. policy. Entous and Osnos continue: “In March, 2017, Bill Priestap, the F.B.I.’s chief of counterintelligence, visited the White House and briefed Kushner about the danger of foreign-influence operations, according to three officials familiar with the meeting. Priestap told Kushner that he was among the top intelligence targets worldwide, and was being targeted not only by China but by every other major intelligence service as well, including those of the Russians and the Israelis. Priestap said that foreign spy agencies could use diplomats and spies masquerading as students and journalists to collect information about him. (An F.B.I. spokesperson declined to comment.)
“Priestap and Kushner discussed some of Kushner’s contacts, including Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. Kushner and Ivanka Trump had known her for about a decade, and she was a regular guest at their Washington home. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch’s ties to the Chinese government. Internally, some Chinese officials spoke about her in ways that suggested they had influence over her, the former senior official, who was briefed on the intelligence, said. Other officials said that the intelligence was inconclusive.
“The allegations against Wendi Murdoch are complicated by her divorce from Rupert Murdoch. On January 15th, some of the allegations were published in the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. (A spokesperson for Wendi Murdoch said, ‘The idea that she is involved in anything covert is so absurd, it could only have come from an unnamed source.’ A spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch said that Murdoch does not believe Wendi is a spy.) When Kushner was briefed by the F.B.I., he saw little cause for alarm, according to a person close to Kushner. He had no doubt that China and other countries were trying to persuade him to do things or to provide information, but he was, despite his inexperience in diplomacy and intelligence, confident in his ability to navigate these situations. After all, he told others, New York real estate is not “a baby’s business.”
How about we end this first look at Jared Kushner with this recent dispatch from the Washington Post of Feb. 9, 2018: “White House Counsel Donald McGahn and other Trump administration officials have been so vexed by Jared Kushner’s months-long inability to obtain a permanent security clearance that they have hesitated to get involved in other cases with potential problems, several people familiar with the matter said.
“The president’s son-in-law and close adviser has been allowed to see materials, including the President’s Daily Brief, that are among the most sensitive in government. He has been afforded that privilege even though he has only an interim clearance and is a focus in the ongoing special counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the election.”
“How Jared Kushner Won Trump The White House”
Steven Betoni, November 22, 2016, Forbes
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2016/11/22/exclusive-interview-how-jared-kushner-won-trump-the-white-house/ – 3820652e3af6
“Ivanka and Jared’s Power Play”
By Lizzie Widdicombe, New Yorker, August 22, 2016
“The Story Behind Jared Kushner’s Curious Acceptance into Harvard”
Daniel Golden, November 18, 2016, ProPublica
“23 Things You Need to Know About Donald Trump’s Son-in Law”
Helin Jung, December 1, 2017, Cosmopolitan
“Jared Kushner’s firm seeks arrest of Maryland tenants to collect debt”
Doug Donovan, August-16, 2017 Baltimore Sun
“Jared Kushner Real Estate Company Sued for Predatory Overcharging Practice”
Betsy Woodruff, September 27, 2017, the Daily Beast
“Kushner Companies Decides to Fight Tenants in State Court Rather Than Reveal Its Investors’ Identities”
AlecMacGillis, February 9, 2018, ProPublica
“Inside the decade-long relationship of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner”
Shana Lebowitz, October 26, 2017, Business Insider
“Special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner’s business dealings”
Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Adam Entous, Washington Post, June 15, 2017
“What Jared Kushner still owns”
By Darla Cameron, Amy Brittain and Jonathan O’Connell, Washington Post, May 21, 2017
“Trump son-in-law had undisclosed contacts with Russian envoy – sources”
Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay, May 26, 2017, Reuters
“Members of Trump’s legal team reportedly wanted Jared Kushner to step down over his Russia ties”
Natasha Bertrand, September 11, 2017.
“Jared Kushner Failed to Disclose He Led a Foundation Funding Illegal Israeli Settlements Before U.N. Vote”
Chris Riotta, December 3, 2017, Newsweek
“It Was Kushner Who Told Flynn To Make Calls About Israel UN Vote, Source Says”
Aram Roston and John Hudson, December 1, 2017, Buzzfeed
https://www.buzzfeed.com/aramroston/it-was-kushner-who-told-flynn-to-make-calls-about-israel-un?utm_term=.tuQrAq2A5 – .efbB40n4z
“Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin”
Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller, May 26, 2017, Washington Post
“Special Counsel Mueller Probes Jared Kushner’s Contacts With Foreign Leaders”
By Peter Nicholas, Aruna Viswanatha and Rebecca Ballhaus, November 21, 2017, Wall Street Journal
“A Groundbreaking Case May Force Controversial Data Firm Cambridge Analytica to Reveal Trump Secrets”
Jackie Flynn Mogensen, December 19, 2017, Mother Jones
Excerpts from “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolfe, Henry Holt & Company, 2018
“Jared Kushner sealed real estate deal with oligarch’s firm cited in money-laundering case”
Wendy Dent and Ed Pilkington in New York and Shaun Walker in Moscow, July 24, 2017, UK Guardian
United States Court of Appeals
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
Docket No. 16-132
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff-Appellee —v.—PREVEZON HOLDINGS LTD.,
“Jared Kushner Is China’s Trump Card”
By Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, January 29, 2018, New Yorker
“Prosecutors Said to Seek Kushner Records From Deutsche Bank”
By Ben Protess, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and David Enrich, December 22, 2017, New York Times
“As Jared Kushner’s security clearance is delayed, White House hesitates to act on others with possible problems”
Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, February 9, 2018, Washington Post