Search result for 'jared kushner'.


Is Jared Kushner the Real Weakest Link?

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Trump Maladministration

Michael Flynn is refusing to honor a Senate subpoena and is pleading the Fifth, a whole lot of news sources are saying. One suspects Flynn is guilty of something. One also suspects the “something” could implicate the Trump Administration.  Trump’s association with Flynn could bring him down, yet. Whatever he’s hiding from the Senate likely will come out eventually. (Do read this Politico piece on Robert Mueller; it will make you feel better.)

However, there’s someone else is the Trump Administration being looked at. There are credible reports that a senior White House adviser close to the so-called president has become a “person of interest” to the Justice Department. And there’s a lot of speculation that PoI is Jared Kushner.

Now WaPo and other sources are reporting that Kushner has kept 90 percent of his real estate holdings, which likely puts him at odds with ethics rules.

Kushner, 36, who is emerging as a singularly powerful figure in the Trump White House, is keeping nearly 90 percent of his vast real estate holdings even after resigning from the family business and pledging a clear divide between his private interests and public duties.

The value of his retained real estate interests is between $132 million and $407 million and could leave him in a position to financially benefit from his family’s business. …

… It is not clear from Kushner’s financial filings whether any of his holdings might intersect with his broad and evolving responsibilities in the White House. This week, Kushner has been close by the president during the administration’s first international trip, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy.

Kushner rejected a request by The Washington Post to review his ethics agreement with the White House, which would lay out the topics that he has pledged to avoid because of concerns about conflicts of interest. White House officials have said that it is a long-standing policy for the agreements to remain confidential.

Let’s review some other recent Jared Kushner news —

March 27: Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.

March 28: Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner has ties to Putin

April 6: Kushner Omitted Meeting With Russians on Security Clearance Forms

Given the Kushner family history as a pack of opportunistic grifters, odds are very long that baby-faced Jared couldn’t pass an ethics whiff test in a Chanel No. 5 factory.

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Jared and Ivanka Are Buried in Debt

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Trump Maladministration

Let this soak in: Politico reported last week that the debt Jared and Ivanka were carrying on one Visa card dropped from a range of $100,001 to $250,000 down to a range of $50,001 to $100,000. “However, in revisions to the form before it was formally certified by the Office of Government Ethics on Dec. 26, the outstanding debt for the three credit lines was raised to the higher level.”

That’s credit card debt, people. Average interest rates on credit cards is about 15 percent right now, and of course plebians like us pay a lot more, like 20-something percent. People who run up credit card debt like that have financial issues, somehow. Maybe what they call a “cash flow” problem.

This week, we learned 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.” And here I would have been telling them they’d better be saving their money, because once the Trump Administration finally goes down their earning opportunities are going to go down with it.

We learned this week that along with his much amended security clearance forms, Jared recently has been correcting his financial disclosure forms.

Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks — and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM.

Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, wrote a letter to White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino dated Jan. 3, 2018 adding a number of additional business interests that had not previously been on his personal financial disclosure form.

That letter, which has not been previously reported, corrects and adds new corporate positions and details of his companies’ structures that he legally was required to disclose, in a seeming attempt to square his filing with spouse Ivanka Trump’s as well as clean up some previously overlooked items.

Also, too:

According to a separate recent update from Ivanka Trump, Kushner appears to have taken out millions more in loans in recent months, a sign that his business may be on the rocks. The couple are currently battling a lawsuit filed in December that accuses them of illegally omitting information for 32 other companies, raising the possibility of hidden conflicts of interest.

Somehow, all those “business interests” must not be generating what we call “income.”

Now, let’s talk about Jared’s lack of a security clearance. Jennifer Rubin wrote,

Kushner met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss a secret back channel and with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank, VneshEconomBank (VEB). (“The conversation is curious not only because it represents a top Trump official secretly meeting with an arm of the Russian government, but also because accounts of the meeting differ in important ways,” The Atlantic’s David Graham noted at the time. “Kushner says he attended the meeting in his capacity as an adviser to President-elect Trump. But VEB says that the meeting concerned Kushner’s family real-estate business.”) And he was present at the now-infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

Kushner’s financial problems make these contacts all the more troubling. As he was racking up debt, Fordham Law School professor Jed Shugerman tells me, Kushner “also just coincidentally was setting up secret lines to the Kremlin and was meeting with (Russian President Vladmir) Putin’s banker a month after the election. And he just coincidentally was meeting with Russians offering dirt in Trump Tower during the election.” He explains, “Kushner’s massive debts are an important piece of the entire Russia conspiracy on some of the parties’ motives (Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump) for such inexplicable behavior and such risk-taking.”

And here is what we call the very obvious “bottom line.”

In sum, Kushner has huge and growing debt, many suspicious Russian contacts and a close relationship (perhaps second only to Ivanka’s) with Trump. “The more money Kushner owes, especially to lenders or guarantors who do not have America’s best interests at heart, the more he and his father-in-law the president are subject to compromising pressures at best and outright blackmail at worst,” constitutional lawyer Larry Tribe tells me. “The fact that Kushner, without full security clearance, is permitted to peruse the president’s daily briefing, containing the most secret information that exists, makes all of Kushner’s financial obligations and debts urgent threats to our national security. This situation is unconscionable.”

Does anyone seriously think that Trump and the Kushners are above compromising American interests to make some money on the side? Of course they aren’t.

See also “Jared Kushner May Soon Be Working at TGI Fridays — If They’ll Have Him.”

When Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump accepted jobs as senior advisers to the president (a.k.a. “Dad”), they allegedly saw the gigs as stepping stones that would one day lead to a scenario in which one of them was president. But if the events of the past week (not to mention the past 15 months!) are any indication, political ascendance is not exactly in the cards for these two. Ivanka, of course, has her #WomenWhoWork hashtag to fall back on. Jared’s prospects, sadly, look less bright. His safety net—Kushner Cos.’s real-estate empire—is rapidly filling with holes, thanks in part to his own industry know-how, which could be charitably described as somewhat lacking.

Remember, neither Jared nor Ivanka have ever actually held jobs.

Speaking of security clearance — let’s look up the food chain a bit to Trump himself. Jonathan Chait writes that there’s a real possibility Trump is being blackmailed by Russia now.

Ronan Farrow’s new story shows that Trump habitually pays for sex. He had an affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and offered her money after sex, which she turned down. At another point in the story, he offered adult entertainer Jessica Drake $10,000 for “her company.”

Farrow’s reporting also implies, without quite establishing as an absolute certainty, that Trump maintained a system for silencing his sexual partners. A network of sleazy operators, sometimes working in conjunction with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Trump’s close friend, would pay off women to prevent their stories from seeing the light of day. In any case, previous reporting by The Wall Street Journal has already established that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid at least one of his former mistresses to stay quiet.

So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him.

This renders the sleazier allegations from the Steele Dossier a lot more credible, Chait writes. Of course, even if they aren’t true, there’s a huge possibility that Trump has financial secrets Putin knows about and America doesn’t.

But I bet Bob Mueller will sniff them out, if he hasn’t already …

But certainly the Russian blackmail theory explains why Trump steadfastly refuses to do anything about Russia. See “Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader.”

See also “Mueller levels new claim of bank fraud against Manafort.”

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Who’s the Turkey Now? Jared’s Wings Clipped

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Trump Maladministration

This should cheer you up. Gabriel Sherman writes for Vanity Fair:

When Donald Trump appointed John Kelly as chief of staff in July, the four-star Marine general arrived with a mandate to bring order to a freewheeling West Wing. Gone are the days of staffers waltzing into the Oval Office to lobby the president on policy or supply him with gossip. Trump still tweets, of course, but for the most part Kelly’s cleanup has been successful, according to interviews with a half dozen Trump advisers, current and former West Wing officials, and Republicans close to the administration. The aide who has ceded the most influence in the Kelly era, these people said, is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.“Kelly has clipped his wings,” one high-level Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me.

It’s perhaps hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly. According to two people close to the White House, Kelly was said to be displeased with the result of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month because it took place just days before 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrested 11 Saudi royals, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin TalalThe Washington Postreported that Kushner and M.B.S., as the prince is known, stayed up till nearly 4 a.m. “planning strategy,” which left Kelly to deal with the impression that the administration had advance knowledge of the purge and even helped orchestrate it, sources told me. (Asked about this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, in part: “Chief Kelly and Jared had a good laugh about this inquiry as nothing in it is true.”)

And, of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is really credible. See also Margaret Hartmann at New York magazine, “Kushner’s White House Role Was Significantly Reduced — But Not Fast Enough.”

Robert Mueller also has a special interest in Mr. Ivanka. Esme Cribb writes for Talking Points Memo:

Investigators working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, are looking into contacts between White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and foreign heads of state, the Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses about Kushner’s involvement in a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in disputed territories.

A day before the United Nations security council unanimously passed the resolution, Trump said it “should be vetoed.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner and Trump’s former chief adviser Steve Bannon were both involved in Israeli officials’ outreach to Trump’s administration regarding the resolution.

And also:

Investigators are also making inquiries about Kushner’s meeting in December 2016 with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank that has deep connections to Russia’s intelligence agency, according to the report. The United States added the bank in question, Vnesheconombank, to its list of sanctioned entities in 2014.

Natasha Bertrand wrote for Business Insider:

Mueller’s team has reportedly questioned witnesses about some of Kushner’s conversations and meetings with foreign leaders during the transition, when he famously hosted former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower and asked whether it would be possible to set up a backchannel line of communication to Moscow.

Kislyak then orchestrated a meeting between Kushner and the CEO of Russia’s Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reportedlast year.

The Kremlin and the White House have provided conflicting explanations for why Kushner met with Gorkov. 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.

See also “Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do.”

I’ll be hanging out with family for the next couple of days but will try to check in, WiFi access willing. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

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Trump Maladministration

Jared Kushner, May 2017:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Jared Kushner, July 2017:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, denied in a statement Monday that he suggested setting up a “back channel” communication line to the Kremlin that would bypass US intelligence agencies and persist after Trump was inaugurated.

But Kushner acknowledged in the statement, which came ahead of a closed-door appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that he asked Russia’s ambassador to the US in December whether the Trump transition team could use Russia’s embassy to communicate privately with Moscow about Syria.

Jared Kushner, November 2017:

The President’s son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner failed to provide Senate investigators with emails he was forwarded about WikiLeaks and an invitation to contact Russia through a “backdoor,” two senior lawmakers claim.

In a letter to Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell, Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Dianne Feinstein reveal that Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” …

The Senate lawmakers say they know of the existence of the documents from other witnesses in their investigation. Yet Kushner, who says he is cooperating, has not produced them.

“There are several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production. For example, other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Мr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” the letter reads. “Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning а “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” which Mr. Kushner also forwarded.”

It’s not clear from the article exactly what happened when or who issued the invitation to Kushner, although it may have been Sergei Millian, a Russian-American businessman who may be one of the sources included in the Steele dossier. But it certainly sounds like the backdoor-backchannel thing was something Kushner at least tried to set up.

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Another Jared-Russian Connection

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Trump Maladministration

The drips, they keep dripping. Jared Kushner is in trouble with the Senate Judiciary Committee over emails he received and forwarded but did not disclose.

 

In the letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. They include a series of “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks,” which the committee leaders say Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks over private Twitter messages during the campaign.

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee “documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ” that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said Kushner had been made privy to “communications with Sergei Millian” — a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow — but failed to turn those records over to investigators.

See also The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Jared Kushner a big request for documents he has refused to provide.

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Kushner Money Blues

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Big Bill, Trump Maladministration

There’s a must-read report at Bloomberg News about the Kushner family finances. Executive summary: You think you have money problems? Boy howdy, you do not want to be them.

Here’s the story: Back in 2007, the Kushners bought a big ugly building on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan — 666 Fifth Avenue, in fact — that they couldn’t afford.

A kingmaker in New Jersey Democratic politics, Kushner had been out of prison just three months for making illegal campaign contributions and, in a bizarre episode that the tabloids couldn’t get enough of, hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law. He wanted a prestige Manhattan property to mark a fresh start for the family business, which would now be led, if mostly in appearance, by his eldest child, Jared Kushner, who frequently consulted his father. Charlie had recently been turned down for towers including the Seagram Building. He saw securing Tishman’s property as a way to plant his flag.

Over the weekend, the Kushners and their partners worked out a deal in which they would put down $50 million—a pittance. Barclays Bank Plc and UBS Group AG funded $1.75 billion of the purchase, $535 million of it in short-term, high-interest loans. The terms were demanding, bordering on untenable. Nevertheless, after the deal closed in January 2007, the group celebrated with a party at one of the most expensive restaurants in New York, Per Se. Everyone there was given a pair of silver cufflinks fashioned in the embossed look of the building’s exterior.

Note the date, 2007. Then came 2008. And the Kushners were stuck with this turkey.

At 1.5 million square feet, the 1950s building ranks nowhere near the largest of New York skyscrapers. Its low ceilings and closely built columns give it a dark, closed-off feel—anathema in the era of light-filled open-plan offices.

“If that building was beginning to look obsolete at the time of purchase, it is totally obsolete now,” says Jesse Keenan, a Harvard lecturer on architecture who wrote a 2013 report on the building for Kushner Cos. He notes that Manhattan is in the midst of its largest office-construction boom since the 1980s. The most prestigious occupants—hedge funds, private equity and law firms—are moving west to new buildings, shifting the center of gravity away from the Kushners.

Since the purchase there’s been some refinancing and some share selling, but the bottom line is that the Kushner company still holds half of a $1.2 billion mortgage, on which it hasn’t paid a cent, and the full amount is due in February 2019.  See, aren’t you glad you aren’t them?

And they’ve got this big turkey of a building that they probably couldn’t sell for that much. One guy they approached to help bail them out more or less said that the lot was worth more than the building.

Among other plans, the Kushners thought they might gut and renovate the building, turning it into luxury condominiums and high-end retail space. People who were asked to invest in this idea turned it down, saying that the potential return didn’t justify the cost. The New York luxury-retail market is already close to being saturated, apparently.

No American financiers would work with them, so the Kushners have been shopping abroad for someone to take some of the financial load off their hands. This was going nowhere, either, until Trump won the election. Suddenly, people would at least take meetings. The problem is that the thing is such an obvious money-loser that no honest investor wants to have anything to do with it. And those entities that might have other motives for dumping a ton of cash into a building owned by the president’s son-in-law have been frightened off by the scrutiny surrounding Kushner. Chinese and Saudi companies that nearly bought in earlier this year have backed out already.

On top of that, a lot of the Kushner family’s other projects aren’t doing much better, as CNN reported recently. Remember the time they got caught selling visas in China? That was to prop up another project, One Journal Square in Jersey City. Recently a Kushner family request for a 30-year tax abatement and $30 million in city-issued bonds to keep the project alive was turned down by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

Fulop is a Democrat, and his political rival says the mayor didn’t support the tax break because of the political risk he faced for aligning himself with the Kushners in the past.

“This pivot away was clearly based upon Fulop’s identification of a shift in the political winds and recognition that Trump and Kushner are toxic in Jersey City,” said Bill Matsikoudis, a Democrat, who is running against Fulop in the city’s mayoral race.

I haven’t heard that the One Journal Square building project is now dead, but I suspect it is.

No one seems to be asking the obvious question — why isn’t the allegedly wealthy Trump family bailing out the Kushners? One suspects that the answer is that the Trumps are leveraged up to their eyeballs already. I trust Mr. Mueller will sort that out eventually.

The other part of this touches on Jared’s many meetings with people he shouldn’t have met with. Keep in mind that Kushner has kept 90 percent of his real estate holdings. How nervous is he getting, do you think?

Josh Marshall writes,

It was almost unquestionably this money hunt that led Kushner to meet with that chief of a Russian owned state bank during the transition – a source of many of his current troubles.

What all of this amounts to is that while Kushner has been given oversight of numerous key foreign policy issues and problems, his ‘family’ is simultaneously in a desperate hunt for money which basically has to come from abroad – from a lot of the people he meets with in his White House job. It’s like having a Secretary of State desperate for help getting money from every foreign potentate he meets with. In fact, it’s not ‘like’ that. It sort of is that.

This is, um, not good. All I’m going to say further, for now, is that we seriously need a Constitutional amendment that says presidents and their White House advisers must make complete tax returns public before general elections and also sell or place in a genuine blind trust all businesses and investments before taking office. But that’s not going to help us now.

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More on the Kushner Family Business

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Trump Maladministration

Josh Marshall has more on the Kushner family cash-in and their pitch to Chinese investors, including photo evidence that investors are being promised access to Trump.

You’ve probably heard that the Kushner family was caught over the weekend literally selling visas to immigrate to the United States in exchange for funding a $150 million dollar New Jersey real estate project. The sale itself is actually legal. It’s part of a highly controversial and widely abused program which provides visas to foreign nationals in exchange for $500,000 investments in US projects which by certain standards are judged to create jobs in impoverished or economically distressed parts of the United States. It’s become a widely abused vehicle for real estate developers looking to fund luxury development projects.

Whether Jersey City is “economically distressed” depends on who you are. There are a lot of luxury high-rise apartments there already. If you are looking for something cheaper, however, I found a 500 sq. foot third-floor walkup for a mere $1680 a month.

In other words, if you want to do something for Jersey City’s economically distressed residents, building another luxury high-rise ain’t it. That’s the biggest problem with living in the New York City area, actually. Middle- and lower-income people are squeezed to death because The Rent Is Too Damn High. Builders want to build luxury places to wealthy people, because they get more rent per square foot, and that’s all that gets built. Housing for everybody else can get downright squalid, if not nonexistent. The waiting lists for subsidized and low-cost housing are years long.

Trump – as well as the Kushner family’s connection to him – was explicitly invoked as the “key decision maker” in getting the visas. A Times reporter posted this picture of  the presentation to Twitter, which I’ve marked up to identify the people  in the slide …

You have to go to Talking Points Memo to see the photo, but it’s pretty damning.

This is needless to say, the most open and flagrant kind of monetizing of the Presidency – as bad as anyone could have imagined from the conjoined Trump/Kushner families. The fact that this ‘nationalist’, ‘crack down on illegal immigration’ White House is connected to cash for visas activities like this just adds a layer of oily crust to the corruption.

And that’s the stuff we know about. Reporters just happened to get wind of the Chinese presentation and showed up to cover it. How much are we not hearing about?

Let us not forget that Jared Kushner’s father served time in federal prison for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. That doesn’t mean Kushner necessarily is dishonest himself, but it says something about Kushner family values.

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House of Bad Security Clowns

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Trump Maladministration

Conservative opinion writer Kathleen Parker explains why Rob Porter was kept at his job without a security clearance. He was one of the few people working at the White House “who knew how to do anything,” Parker says.

Most likely, Rob Porter was deemed too valuable to the White House given that he, and virtually no one else, including the president and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, understood how the legislative branch of government works. Whatever his military achievements, Kelly may be the least-qualified chief of staff in recent history, including his lackluster predecessor, Reince Priebus, who is James A. Baker III by comparison. …

… Kelly has pleaded ignorance about Porter’s alleged abusive background, saying he only recently found out about it. But it appears that Kelly was informed last fall and that White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew a year ago. The Post reported Thursday: “When McGahn informed Kelly this fall about the reason for the security clearance holdup, he agreed that Porter should remain.” …

… The shock and awe emanating from the White House about Porter aren’t so much a commentary on the man, but testament to the surreal and potentially perilous incompetence surrounding the president.

I would have left out “potentially,” but yeah.

Dozens of White House staff lack permanent security clearances. This includes Jared Kushner; officials say he is not expected to receive a security clearance in the near future.

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.

Get this–

Those in [White House Counsel Donald] McGahn’s office, people familiar with the matter said, feel they cannot take action on other people whose background checks have dragged on because they did not take similar steps with Kushner.

Porter and Kushner and who know who else in the White House surely had and have access to all the intelligence given to Trump, including his famously dumbed-down daily briefs that he apparently can’t read, but which have to be explained to him.

Trump, the Post reports, “has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues” because reading the brief — which every president has been able to do since its existence began — “is not Trump’s preferred ‘style of learning,’ according to a person with knowledge of the situation.”

Trump does not receive his verbal briefing daily, but instead “about every two to three days on average in recent months, typically around 11 a.m.” That’s when “executive time” ends and Trump has to turn off Fox News to listen to officials for a while, before he gets more screen time later in the day.

And then he can’t be bothered to listen to the explanations:

The early briefing sessions had a more freewheeling quality, according to current and former administration officials. Five or more White House aides might join Trump for the briefing, in addition to his briefer and intelligence officials.

The meetings were often dominated by whatever topic most interested the president that day. Trump would discuss the news of the day or a tweet he sent about North Korea or the border wall — or anything else on his mind, two people familiar with the briefings said.

On such days, there would only be a few minutes left — and the briefers would have barely broached the topics they came to discuss, one senior U.S. official said.

This causes one to suspect that people like Kelly, Porter and Kushner are the ones really driving anything the White House actually does. Kushner’s prior experience at being a big shot include turning the once-respected New York Observer into a combination Trump propaganda rag / shopping circular for the Upper West Side and blowing the family fortune on an overpriced white elephant on Fifth Avenue. If he ever actually succeeded at anything, I must have missed it. On top of that, he deliberately falsified security clearance forms and has extensive foreign business ties that ought to have disqualified him for a White House job by themselves.

As for John Kelly, he obviously has failed to bring order to the White House. He also is an immigration hard liner who was among those who were behind the scuttling of the Graham-Durbin budget deal at the “shithole” meeting.

Just three weeks ago, Kelly was being called “President Kelly” at the right-wing National Review. “Donald Trump runs a Twitter account. President John Kelly is running the administration,” Kevin Williamson wrote. Yes, but running it badly.

This is Trump’s latest tweet, btw.

 

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Merry Whatever

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holiday, Trump Maladministration

Even though it’s not a religious holiday for me, I have to admit I appreciate that there’s one time of year when everything comes to a screeching halt. Routines go out the window; businesses close. There’s nothing left but to say, “Oh, yeah. It’s Christmas.” It helps one appreciate normal, especially when all those insipid made-for-television Christmas romance movies go away.

In the unintended consequences department, we learn that Trump’s announcement about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has killed Christmas tourism in the Holy Land.

Chalk the absence of visitors up to President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech, which outraged Muslims, scared off tourists, and unnerved Christian clerics. It also bushwhacked Vice Preside Mike Pence’s planned (now postponed) trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Cairo, which was meant to express solidarity with Mideast Christians. Church leaders were refusing to meet him.

“Who was advising Trump?” one prominent Bethlehem Christian asked me plaintively. Good question. Because the backlash against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital makes one wonder what Trump and Pence thought they would gain.

According to what I have read here and there, those advising Trump to do this included his go-to guy on Middle East Peace, Jared Kushner; and his veep, Mike Pence.

And then there is Pence, a fervent Christian who urged the president to keep his pledge to his evangelical base and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. If he thought this move would help Holy Land Christians, he was very wrong.

One of the terrible ironies here is that Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims have co-existed peacefully for generations. The reason the Palestinian clergy want to keep a distance from Mike Pence is that they fear making enemies of Muslims.

Ordinary Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem worry that Trump’s perceived challenge to Muslim holy sites will destabilize the city and affect them. They are a minority who have lived for centuries alongside their Muslim Palestinian brethren, and always hope for calm.

On the West Bank, Palestinian Christians do not face persecution for their religious beliefs. Christian restaurants in Bethlehem serve alcohol without any problem, and Christian women walk with hair uncovered. “In Bethlehem, we are a minority, but the Palestinian government supports Christians here,” Canawati said. “The post of mayor always goes to a Christian.” …

…”Most Christian Palestinians feel caught in the middle,” says the Rev. Peter Vasko, a Brooklynite and longtime resident of Jerusalem, who heads the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, which aims to help Christians remain there. “Israeli soldiers look at Christians as Arabs, while Palestinian radicals see them as traitors to the cause.”

Christian evangelicals in the U.S. think that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a great idea; Christians who actually live in Israel, however … not so much.

The divide between evangelicals and other Christian denominations reflects two views of Jerusalem — one traditional and political, the other literal and theological. The key to understanding this rift is the evangelical belief in what is necessary to pave the way for the second coming of Jesus.

For many Holy Land Christians, Trump’s declaration was about as welcome as a biblical curse.

Hours before the declaration on Dec. 6, Jerusalem’s Orthodox Christian patriarchs and heads of local churches sent Trump a letter predicting that “such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

And yet, across the ocean, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Christian Family Research Council, said on a White House visit that “evangelical conservatives are grateful” to Trump for his decision on Jerusalem.

I’m afraid the best we can hope for is that someday Tony Perkins and the whackjobs who admire him find Jesus.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole, there’s a climate crisis.

On a more cheerful note, someone — maybe the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — sent Steve Mnuchin a gift-wrapped box of horse manure. This was generous; I would have just sent some well-used kitty litter. Horse manure is too good for Mnuchin.

And so as not to be a complete downer this Christmas, here’s my favorite Christmas carol. Enjoy.

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Waiting on the Alabama Returns

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Trump Maladministration

I just checked the news for the latest on voter turnout in Alabama. Word is that turnout is “high”; they expect about 25 percent of registered voters to vote.

WTF, Alabama? The whole country is biting its nails over this election, and the best you can do is 25 percent?

Last night at a rally Roy Moore’s wife Kayla actually said this —

Classic. In other news …

The European Parliament has accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of insider trading.

Earlier this year, Luke Ming Flanagan, an Irish politician and member of the European Parliament, the European Union’s governing body, commissioned a report on the 2008 eurozone banking crisis. The final version of this report, written by two Irish financial analysts, was presented in Brussels last week to a group of 52 European Parliament members affiliated with left-leaning parties. And it included a section covering Ross’ investment in the Bank of Ireland, in which he was a major shareholder and a member of the board of directors. The report alleges that when Ross sold off his holdings in the bank for a massive profit in 2014, he possessed inside information that the bank was relying on deceptive accounting practices to mask its losses and embellish its financial position.

You’ll have to read the article for details, which look pretty incriminating. But jeez louise, the guy cheats but still had to lie about being a billionaire. Pathetic.

How about this one — after dumping Matt Lauer, the Today Show’s ratings have gone up. Not surprised.

By now you’ve heard about the tweet Trump sent after Sen. Gillibrand called for him to be investigated for sexual assault.

Because, you know, nothing says “I’m not really a sexual predator” more than hurling sexist and demeaning insults at  women. And then, even better, deny that an obviously sexist comment was a sexist comment. Absolutely brilliant.

Elsewhere — take Steve Mnuchin. Please. Far, far away. He’s turning into one of the most annoying members of Trump’s cabinet, which is saying something. Bess Levin writes for Vanity Fair:

When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that more than 100 people in his department were “working around the clock” on forthcoming analysis regarding the G.O.P.’s tax plan, those he credited with “running scenarios” on the bills were surprised, given that such analysis did not, in fact exist. Their time had been spent, they told The New York Times, running models on “individual provisions or policy ideas”—a far cry from the detailed, thorough analysis that Mnuchin had repeatedly promised was right around the corner, and would definitively prove that the cuts paid for themselves. With the clock running down and the Inspector General digging into the mysterious case of the missing Treasury analysis, the former Goldman partner turned foreclosure mogul pulled through on Monday with a report clocking in at a single page and fewer than 500 words that says the Senate plan will totally pay for itself—assuming a set of circumstances that are about as likely as Jared Kushner bringing peace to the Middle East.

Seriously; the Treasury analysis is on one piece of paper, which is not nearly big enough to cover Mnuchin’s lying ass.

For real-live economists and tax experts, Mnuchin’s “analysis” is an infuriating disgrace. “The Treasury’s one-page note is a pathetic joke,” Jason Furman, a professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School and former Chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told me. “I feel awful for the dozens of talented Treasury economists who have worked for years developing sophisticated models for dynamic analysis and dynamic scoring only to be completely shut out of this process. Instead of doing an analysis, the Treasury Department assumed a can opener, using an assumption they made about growth in the budget they put together long before they even had a tax-reform plan. Then they mechanically calculated the consequences of that growth assumption for the budget finding that the tax cuts pay for themselves, a result that a consensus of top economists in the recent Booth survey rejected.”

And so on. Paul Krugman said,

The document was a shameless attempt to fool the public — carefully worded to imply that economic experts at Treasury (they’re still in there somewhere, maybe locked in a closet) had actually done an analysis to that effect, without explicitly saying so. In fact, there was no economic analysis; Trump officials just made up numbers that would give them the result they wanted.

Even reporters hardened to Trump administration lies seemed shocked by the brazenness of this bait-and-switch. What made Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, think he could get away with it?

And the answer is, Paul Ryan’s been getting away with fantasy numbers for years. Why not Mnuchin?

And all of our futures may hinge on bleeping Alabama. I need a drink.

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