The Kushners Add to Trump’s Growing Conflicts of Interest
On Saturday, Jared Kushner’s sister was in the ballroom of a Beijing hotel busily promoting her family’s U.S. real estate projects to Chinese investors. She did so with aplomb: A photograph of President Trump adorned a large screen at the front of the room, noting that the president is a “key decision maker” on a federal program the Kushners were taking advantage of to court foreign investors.
Javier C. Hernandez, a New York Times reporter, helpfully posted a photo of the entire set-up on his Twitter feed over the weekend:
The same photo was in a story Hernandez, along with Cao Li and Jesse Drucker, wrote for the Times over the weekend about the Kushner road show. Organizers of the Beijing event kicked out Hernandez and Li after they became uncomfortable with the reporters’ presence; the same fate befell Washington Post reporters covering the fundraiser.
Kushner has emerged as a key White House liaison to China, and his sister, Nicole Meyer, invoked her brother’s connection to her family’s business -- and his White House role -- during her presentation in Beijing.
The Kushners are trying to raise money through a controversial federal program known as EB-5, which grants foreigners a visa and possible U.S. citizenship if they invest at least $500,000 in American enterprises. The irony here is that Trump not only inveighed against China as an evil empire while on the campaign trail, he also made anti-immigration a central part of his platform and EB-5 was hatched in 1990 as a way to encourage immigration, investment and job growth in the U.S.
Meyer moved on to Shanghai on Sunday, where “burly security guards” at the Four Seasons Hotel reportedly screened attendees at another fundraiser and kept reporters safely outside in a lobby.
Guards can keep reporters at bay from time to time, but the Kushners -- and the entire Trump clan -- have done a poor job masking the raw financial conflicts of interest that have shadowed the White House and the two families’ business dealings. Meyer’s fundraising is only the latest reminder that neither family appears to be very concerned about the propriety of openly embroidering financial wheeling and dealing with nods to the significant policymaking power they also wield in Washington.
It may be tedious at this point, but here’s a short list of some other projects that have raised concerns that President Trump and his family see the Oval Office more as a personal moneymaking venture than an outlet for their deep-seated devotion to public service:
- Mar-a-Lago, where the president has spent most of his weekends since being sworn in, doubled its membership fee after Trump was elected. Trump has used the property to fete foreign dignitaries and used the same taxpayer-supported visits to tour other local Trump golf courses, generating gobs of free advertising for his business.
- The Trump family continues to own a hotel in Washington that sits atop federally-owned land, allowing the Trumps to lease space from the same government that they run. The hotel has also become a sought-after destination for diplomats, lobbyists and others who transact with the federal government.
- The president has yet to release his tax returns, and hasn’t sufficiently distanced himself from the golf course development and licensing business he left behind at the Trump Organization. His two eldest sons and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer oversee the business and a trust sheltering the president’s holdings, but the structure of the trust gives the president a window onto the company’s finances and leaves him with ample control over the trustees’ decisions.
- Jared Kushner, the most powerful person in the White House after the president, has an equally tepid trust sheltering his holdings in his family’s business, and his mother is the trustee. Kushner has sold some of his holdings, but there is still insufficient transparency into all of his business dealings.
- Kushner has also drawn attention for his efforts last year to raise funds for a financially-troubled skyscraper his family owns in Manhattan, 666 Fifth Avenue. The building is saddled with stifling debt and sub-par occupancy rates. Kushner attempted to get a major Chinese insurer, Anbang, to bail him out of the building but that deal apparently collapsed after Bloomberg reporters wrote about it. Kushner also met with a major Russian bank during the same time frame but it’s unclear what that discussion concerned.
- On a much smaller, but telling, scale, Ivanka Trump, who recently formalized her White House role as presidential advisor, has been heavily peddling her new book on her widely-followed Twitter feed after deciding not to go on a publicity tour because she thought that was a financial conflict. Her Twitter feed includes frequent updates on her policy roles at the White House, alongside warm family moments. (The State Department recently removed its own tweet hawking Ivanka’s book, demonstrating that the agency hadn’t learned from last month’s backlash over its website’s marketing campaign for Mar-a-Lago.)
- Ivanka has come under scrutiny for how she operates and markets her clothing and accessories business -- and how aggressively the White House has supported her efforts.
Now we can add this past weekend’s fundraising tour in China to this list.
China has been an attractive business destination for the Trumps and Kushners, and the government there in February approved a series of potentially lucrative trademarks for the Trump Organization. The president’s company had spent a decade trying to secure the trademarks; a wave of approvals followed his election victory.
Most business deals can be enhanced and accelerated when the White House’s residents and family members want them to be. Until Congress, currently controlled by the president’s party, or the courts, which halted one of his key immigration initiatives, decide to slow things down, the rest of us will have to hope that the Trumps and Kushners recognize that they have something to lose by being craven.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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