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Is Jared Kushner the Real Weakest Link?

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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In the Nooz: Pruitt, Kushner, Manafort

Trump Maladministration

The AP reports:

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor’s part-time security contingent.

Pruitt is clearly a five-alarm flake. I recall that his background is entirely in law and Oklahoma politics, not in business. As much as I hold corporations and CEOs in disdain, I think even Exxon would have weeded this whackjob out.

Pruitt’s ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said late Friday that Pruitt has faced an “unprecedented” amount of death threats against him and his family.

However,

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt. EPA’s press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travelers. In one incident, someone yelled a profanity as he walked through the airport.

Pruitt has been dragging this oversize security detail around with him on family vacations. The article also says that on occasions when Pruitt has to pay for his own plane tickets, he flies coach. Apparently he’s a five-alarm tightwad with his own money.  He got behind on paying the people who were giving him the sweet deal on the Capitol Hill brownstone, and he wasn’t taking their hints he should leave, so they changed the locks.

Now, on to Jared Kushner. Somehow, the Kushner Company got the money to buy out its partner in the 666 Fifth Avenue property.  Vornado Realty Trust is selling its shares to the Kushners. But no one seems to know if this means the Kushners have a new partner or where the money came from.  WTF? And why would the Kushners want to double down on this turkey?

Note also that JP Morgan Chase agreed to a $600 million loan to help the Kushners develop the Brooklyn properties I wrote about awhile back. Seems a bit risky, JP Morgan Chase.

Paul Manafort keeps trying to wriggle out of being prosecuted by Robert Mueller. He’s filed motions to dismiss the cases against him, none successful so far. Late yesterday he filed a motion arguing that evidence found in a storage unit should be suppressed because the FBI lacked a proper warrant.

The FBI first got into the Alexandria, Va. storage unit last May with the assistance of an employee who worked at two or more of Manafort’s companies, an agent told the federal magistrate judge who issued the warrant. Then, the agent used what he saw written on so-called Banker’s Boxes and the fact there was a five-drawer filing cabinet to get permission to return and seize many of the records. …

… The warrant U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan issued for the storage locker on May 27 authorized FBI agents to seize virtually any financial or tax records relating to Manafort or his business partner Rick Gates. Also approved for seizure were any records relating to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, his Party of Regions, a pro-Ukraine think tank called the European Center for a Modern Ukraine and a slew of offshore companies connected to Manafort.

The warrant also indicates that among the records FBI agents were authorized to seize from Manafort’s unit were all records “related to, discussing or documenting the Podesta Group.” Manafort engaged the Podesta Group for Ukraine-related lobbying. The lobbying group belatedly filed a foreign agent registration for that work last year. Earlier this year, the Podesta Group abruptly disbanded. It has not been charged.

Manafort’s lawyers are arguing that the employee was not authorized to allow anyone into the unit and that the warrant was overly broad. I’m no lawyer, but this seems a stretch.

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Japan Went to Jared

Trump Maladministration

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting with the Usual Suspects in Trump Tower, November 17, 2016.

Remember the meeting with Shinzo Abe in Trump Tower, a couple of weeks after the election, when people were somewhat alarmed that Ivanka and Jared sat in? And remember the Mar a Lago national security meeting in February 2017?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, February 10, 2017

Yesterday Caleb Melby of Bloomberg News reported that by some coincidence the government of Japan entered into a real estate deal with Jared Kushner & family shortly after the February meeting. On March 31 2017, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. closed on a stake in a building in Brooklyn, 175 Pearl Street, owned by the Kushner family. The government of Japan owns a controlling interest in Nippon Telegraph & Telephone. In effect, the government of Japan and the Kushner family are co-owners of the building.

The Brooklyn transaction represented a premium of more than 60 percent on a price-per-square-foot basis over what Kushner Cos. and its partners paid four years earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The deal enabled the Kushner group to take larger ownership stakes in nearby buildings in Brooklyn’s chic Dumbo neighborhood that have signed tenants such as Etsy Inc. and WeWork Cos.

Kushner Cos. is now a co-owner with the NTT unit. The Japanese firm owns 23 percent of the building through limited liability companies plus more through a Normandy-controlled investment fund, a person familiar with the arrangement said. A day after the companies bought 175 Pearl St., the NTT company purchased a stake in Normandy itself. Kushner Cos. maintains a non-controlling share of less than five percent.

The sale was made through a New Jersey company called Normandy, and until yesterday it wasn’t publicly known that Japan was the real purchaser.  This is what was reported in March 2017:

Normandy Real Estate Partners is set to close Friday on the $100 million purchase of a majority stake in  at Dumbo HeightsThe Real Deal has learned. The 204,000-square-foot property, which has remained vacant for over a year, is part of the complex being developed by Kushner Companies, RFR Realty and LIVWRK.

Normandy, a New Jersey-based real estate investment firm, will take the lead on redevelopment and leasing efforts at the eight-story property. Kushner Companies, LIVWRK and RFR will move into a “single-digit” minority position, sources said. Invesco, which was an equity partner in the building, is being bought out, sources added.

It was not immediately clear if brokers were involved. Representatives for Kushner, RFR and Blackstone declined to comment, while Normandy and LIVWRK did not respond to requests for comment.

Wait, Blackstone? Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman is one Trump’s BFFs. There are allegations floating around that Trump owes Blackstone a ton of money, although I don’t know if that’s been verified. Blackstone has been doing a lot of business with Trump’s buddies, the Saudis, lately.

So I did a little more digging. The Pearl Street property is part of a complex of properties in Brooklyn (including the old Watchtower building) that the Kushners bought and have been developing into office towers. Blackstone was involved in the financing.  This is from May 2017:

For Jared Kushner, last summer was a whirlwind of deal-making. On the campaign trail, in the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention, the real estate scion was endeavoring to convince his father-in-law, Donald Trump, to install new advisers. At the same time, as CEO of his family’s namesake company, Kushner was helping negotiate one of the largest real estate deals ever completed in Brooklyn, the purchase of a famed commercial property overlooking the East River.

On both fronts, Kushner prevailed. The first week of August, along with two partner firms, he succeeded in acquiring Brooklyn’s Watchtower complex, owned for decades by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for $340 million. Two weeks later he secured the resignation of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, paving the way for Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to take on senior White House roles.

Kushner stepped down from his role as CEO of Kushner Companies (now simply “Kushner”) in January, prior to Trump’s inauguration, and has agreed to divest himself of some assets. But he remains the beneficiary of more than 200 family-owned properties across the U.S., including 25-30 Columbia Heights. That arrangement puts the property’s prospective tenants in an unusual situation. However indirectly, they will be paying rent to a man with an office in the West Wing. Not only that, but a man who has positioned himself as the behind-the-scenes connection point between business and the administration, responsible for overseeing the president’s innovation office and brazenly at ease orchestrating public-private deals.

I love all the name dropping. Here we get to it:

Kushner did not hold back from mixing business and politics while traveling on Trump’s first overseas trip last week, even as reports that he had attempted to establish back-channel communications with Russia began to surface. For example, Stephen Schwarzman, cofounder and CEO of the Blackstone Group—which provided financing for the Columbia Heights acquisition—joined Kushner in Riyadh, while riding high on the news that Saudi Arabia had agreed to invest $20 billion in a Blackstone infrastructure fund. (Schwarzman heads the White House’s business-advisory council.)

Of course, Blackstone might not have been involved in the deal with Japan,but I thought it was interesting. Now, back to Bloomberg:

Trump’s victory was a source of acute concern in Japan. He ran a protectionist, Japan-bashing campaign, vowed to drop a Pacific trade deal, accused Tokyo of manipulating its currency, threatened to remove U.S. troops from the country and even suggested Japan might have to develop its own nuclear weapons. When Trump won, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe skipped a planned Peru visit and flew to New York to be the first head of state to personally congratulate the president-elect in a Trump Tower meeting that included Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who was still running Kushner Cos. at the time.

Trump warmed to Abe and, after taking office, White House officials asked Finance Minister Taro Aso to join Abe on his next visit for trade talks with Vice President Mike Pence. The Japanese leaders extended their push in a February 2017 trip to the White House, where Aso and Pence talked about economic cooperation. Afterward, Abe joined Kushner and other members of the Trump family aboard Air Force One for a flight to Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort owned by the president.

NTT Urban Development and Normandy bought the Brooklyn property six weeks later from the Kushner group, which included Invesco Ltd. Atlanta-based Invesco had a majority stake in the property, which was operated by Kushner and Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding LLC.

Now, a year later, the Pearl Street property still sits empty and undeveloped. And ugly, I might add.  This is what it looks like:

175 Pearl Street, Brooklyn

Needs some work, I’d say. See also Rachel Maddow’s report on this last night.

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The Further Adventures of Jared

Trump Maladministration

I’m trying to remember what it was I used to write about before Trump became president. Anyone?

Today The Intercept reported that it appears Jared Kushner arranged to punish Qatar for not giving him a loan.

THE REAL ESTATE firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.

I’m starting to think the Book of Revelations really is about the Trump Administration. If you need background on the 666 Fifth Avenue property, see Kushner Money Blues. The bottom line is that Kushner needs a massive amount of financing for a white elephant property with massive mortgage coming due in less than a year, and if he doesn’t get the money, the family fortune is pretty much ruined.

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

That really doesn’t look good.

The Gulf crisis involving Qatar and its neighbors will likely be Kushner’s defining foreign policy legacy. The crisis followed a May visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by Kushner and President Donald Trump, who subsequently took credit for Saudi Arabia and its allies’ efforts against Qatar. The fallout has reshaped geopolitical alliances in the region, splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council and pushing Qatar, home to the Middle East’s largest U.S. military base, closer to Turkey and Iran.

It was a totally boneheaded move that hurt U.S. interests in the region, in other words. Of course, it’s possible this was more about Trump and Kushner just being ignorant and scammed by the Saudis, not …. oh, wait ...

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, according to witnesses who have been interviewed as part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election.

As part of the scrutiny of Kushner’s discussions with Turks, federal investigators have reached out to Turkish nationals for information on Kushner through the FBI’s legal attache office in Ankara, according to two people familiar with the matter. Separately, Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

Eric Levitz at New York magazines adds,

The office space that the Kushners retained is worth less than its $1.2 billion mortgage — which is due early in 2019. If their company can’t find some new scheme for refinancing and redeveloping the property by then, Kushner will have cost his family a fortune.

And Jared really doesn’t want that to happen. In the months between his father-in-law’s election and inauguration, Kushner divided his time between organizing the transition, and seeking capital from (suddenly quite interested) investors aligned with foreign governments: During that period, Kushner attempt to secure a $400 million loan from the Chinese insurance firm Anbang, and a $500 million one from former Qatari prime minister and billionaire investor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, also known as “HBJ.” Anbang pulled out once the deal attracted critical media scrutiny, and HBJ jumped ship when the Kushners failed to find a second major source of capital.

In those same weeks, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-affiliated Vnesheconombank. The senior White House adviser has insisted that this meeting was strictly political; Gorkov maintains it was strictly business.

And here’s the even more juicy bit …

All of these interactions are currently being scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

They have also, apparently, been studied by top government officials in the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — all of whom have privately discussed strategies for exploiting Jared Kushner’s business interests for geopolitical gain, according to a report from the Washington Post on Wednesday.

And if America’s allies and adversaries are looking for further (circumstantial) evidence that U.S. foreign policy might be for sale, the New York Times provided some this week, when it revealed that Kushner’s family company had won $500 million in financing last year from a pair of American firms right after their top executives had White House meetings with one Jared Kushner.

But, wait, there’s more. Yesterday I wrote about a big loan Kushner got from a company called Apollo Global Management. Today, the Associated Press has an update:

The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm a $180 million loan.

While there’s no evidence that Kushner or any other Trump administration official had a role in the agency’s decision to drop the inquiry into Apollo Global Management, the timing has once again raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Tru

“I suppose the best case for Kushner is that this looks absolutely terrible,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Without presuming that there is any kind of quid pro quo … there are a lot of ways that the fact of Apollo’s engagement with Kushner and the Kushner businesses in a public and private context might cast a shadow over what the SEC is doing and influence consciously or unconsciously how the agency acted.”

Or, more likely, we’re looking at an old-fashioned quid pro quo.

It’s been said of the Trump White House that it has reminded everyone why there are rules. But one of the saddest and most pathetic things I’ve read this week is in this paragraph:

Privately, some aides have expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, have remained at the White House, despite Mr. Trump at times saying they never should have come to the White House and should leave. Yet aides also noted that Mr. Trump has told the couple that they should keep serving in their roles, even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.

Trump doesn’t have the guts to tell his daughter and son-in-law that maybe it’s time for them to go, so he’s making John Kelly be the bad guy?

See also ‘Jared has faded’: Inside the 28 days of tumult that left Kushner badly diminished in the Washington Post.

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Did Jared Get Caught?

Trump Maladministration

The New York Times is reporting an apparent conflict of interest between Jared Kushner and companies that met with him in the White House.

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.

The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal:It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities  filings show.

It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

A number of White House spokespeople have released the usual bullshit about how this isn’t what it looks like.

Update: Here is a statement being sent by email from a group called the Patriotic Millionaires:

“We don’t want to accuse anyone of inappropriate conduct, but the timeline of Kushner’s meetings with the executives from Apollo and Citigroup is questionable at best. Looking at the large loans the Kushner Companies received and at the Trump Administration’s subsequent one-eighty on closing the carried interest loophole, there is little room for doubt that corruption and pay-to-play politics are to blame for the continued existence of this egregious loophole.”

Charles Pierce:

It has not been a good week for the Dauphin-in-Law. First, he gets his security clearance pulled, at least in part because oligarchs from foreign lands considered him the biggest sucker on the planet. Now, he’s at the center of a steaming pile of corruption so blatant that it would have embarrassed Ferdinand Marcos. If he’s at all smart, he’s spending hours in front of a mirror, repeating the phrase, “To the best of my recollection,” over and over until he can appear sincere.

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Jared and Ivanka Are Buried in Debt

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

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

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

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

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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