As if President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner wasn’t already enough of a lightning rod for controversy, disturbing new questions are being raised about whether he had a conflict of interest last June when he successfully urged his father-in-law to support a plan by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to boycott Qatar for allegedly supporting Iran and terrorism.
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Those questions are serious enough to prompt Special Counsel Mueller to investigate whether or not Kushner abused his position in the White House in order to benefit his family’s company and save himself from the disgrace of failure.
Kushner accompanied Trump on his first major overseas trip with a stop in Saudi Arabia to announce a series of business deals and discuss Middle East policy.
It was at that meeting Trump agreed to support a plan to punish Qatar with an economic and transportation boycott – with the support of Kushner – despite the fact the U.S. has two key major military bases in that country, and strong economic ties.
The Intercept reports today Kushner’s position may have been influenced by anger at Qatar for refusing only a short time before the meetings in Saudi Arabia to provide multi-millions in financing to salvage the Kushner family’s troubled investment in a failing New York City office tower.
Shortly before Trump and Jared Kushner went to Saudi Arabia, Kushner’s father Charles, who runs the Kushner Companies, met with Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City about an investment or loans in the property at 666 Fifth Avenue,
Jared Kushner, then running the family business, acquired the building at the top of the real estate market (paying a record amount) just before the 2008 recession hit – and it has been a huge drain ever since.
Now the Kushner family is said to be in a desperate search for money to meet a loan payment of about $1.2 billion coming due in January 2019.
Jared did not personally attend that meeting at the St. Regis or a subsequent meeting the next day that did not include the Finance Minister personally – but Jared is said to talk to his father on a daily basis – often about business – and still has a major stake in the family company, even after he gave up his management role and sold some of his equity when he took the White House job.
Even after the initial decision to punish Qatar, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to calm things down by calling for a “thoughtful dialogue,” but Trump then made comments calling Qatar as “funder of terror at a very high level,” roiling the waters again and leaving the appearance the American’s were working at cross-purposes.
The Intercept says that it was Kushner who convinced Trump to ignore Tillerson’s efforts to end the standoff and keep the heat on.
If all of this is correct, it gives credence to a Washington Post story on Feb. 27 that said a number of countries – including the UAE, China, Mexico, and Israel – “have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner….by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.”
Kushner apparently had other meetings since he entered the White House with various foreign nationals which were not cleared by the government in advance or properly reported, according to the Washington Post.
Recently, Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has butted heads with Kushner and his wife Ivanka, has forced Kushner to report every meeting in advance and at times get briefed before the meeting on the U.S. position with that country.
“Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was ‘naive and being tricked’ in conversations with foreign leaders, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel.”
If Kushner did have meetings he did not report in advance with foreign nationals, that would be a reason the FBI would hold up approval of his security clearance or possibly deny it completely.
This week Kushner’s interim security status was downgraded from Top Secret to Secret, along with others in the White House, with no assurance he will ever get a full security authorization.
There is constant speculation that Kushner, with or without his wife, could leave his White House post, where he has been given a massive portfolio of duties that includes making peace in the Middle East and repairing relations with Mexico – both of which are going very badly at present because of Trump’s policies.
The New York Times reports that Trump has been sending mixed signals about Kushner’s future as his advisor:
“Privately, some aides have expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife…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,” continued the NY Times, “that Mr. Trump has told the couple they should keep serving in their roles, even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.”
If Kushner does have a conflict of interest that is impacting his government job, he not only should leave the White House but may also find himself in serious legal trouble.
It is believed Kushner is already on the radar of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his association with foreign officials, including those from Russia, and the FBI is still investigating him in relation to his security clearance request – so this is not the end of the story.
Nepotism what as never a good idea but Trump embraced it, and made his inexperienced, young son-in-law one of the top people in the government, even usurping the duties of the Secretary of State, but that could all come back to haunt Trump, Kushner and his wife.
For most Americans, a resolution to that part of the crisis can’t come soon enough.