We learned last week that Jared Kushner met with big-time financial executives in the White House and then hit them up for $500m in loans to his family’s troubled real estate empire, a business in which he maintains an active stake.
While the loans would be a shocking scandal for any other administration, our senses have been dulled. Already, the president set the ethical compass for his presidency low by failing to cut his own ties to the Trump Organization and not, as every recent president has done, releasing his taxes.
The fact that Donald Trump is personally profiting off his presidency is an open secret in Washington as a stroll through the lobby of the new Trump Hotel in the grand Old Post Office proves. Just about anyone who wants a White House favor or a meeting is there, dropping at least $500 per night. Ka-ching for the Trump Organization.
Jared and the Kushner family have been even more brazen. Last year, his sister made news by promising US visas to rich Chinese in exchange for $500,000 investments in Kushner property. In an investigation published in January, the New Yorker revealed that Jared’s meetings with Chinese officials, which included talks about Kushner family business, made US intel officials so nervous that they worried the Chinese were using him as an asset. (And that’s part of why Kushner couldn’t get his security clearance).
Israel, too, has been an easy target for Jared’s greed. According to the New York Times the Kushners’ company received an investment nearing $30m from Menora Mivtachim, one of Israel’s largest insurers, in the spring of 2017. This was shortly before the president and his son-in-law, who has been brokering Middle East peace, visited the country and before the announcement that the American embassy would be moving to Jerusalem.
According to the report, the funds were directed into a Maryland development. Kushner also got at least four loans from Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank and currently under a US Department of Justice criminal investigation.
In the cases of China and Israel, Jared’s business brokering was closely tied to President Trump’s visits to those countries. The pattern is clear: if a foreign country wants Donald Trump to grace it with his presence and favors, best to ante up with loans to his son-in-law first.
In the most recent cases, also exposed by the New York Times, Jared’s benefactors, Apollo Finance and Citigroup, were domestic. But this hardly diminishes the corruption. In the case of the $180m loan from Apollo, Kushner was also in talks with its founder, Joshua Harris, about an administration job.
Back in 2012, the world was rocked by a vast corruption scandal that ensnared and brought down some of China’s most powerful officials. The rulers had acquired huge fortunes in office but their illicit gold was often buried in the bank accounts of relatives, often their in-laws. A new and wealthy beyond dreams Chinese elite, the Princelings, was built this way. Why use in-laws to hide the money? Because they were the ones who could be trusted to keep quiet and eventually return the funds to their rightful owners – the political rulers, after they left office.
So, too, has Donald Trump placed unique trust in his son-in-law. Despite losing stature and his security badge, Jared is still the indispensable man in the White House and will remain so, even as chief of staff John Kelly tries to push him out. Some White House watchers are predicting that Kushner will eventually be situated at Trump’s re-election campaign, but he will, nonetheless, continue to exert unique influence.
Having Jared and his wife, Ivanka, Trump’s daughter, working in the White House is a case study of nepotism gone nuts. The president says the public should be reassured because neither of them is “paid a dime”, but the idea that their free service to the country somehow sanitizes the corruption of having them in high official jobs is nonsense. They serve without any accountability, except to pater familias.
Nepotism and corruption are the handmaidens of the Trump presidency. This should not be surprising. They are the two pillars of many family-run businesses and twin engines of power and profit. Before becoming president, Trump’s only experience was running his family’s real estate business, with his sons and daughter at his side. This is the only model he knows, but it’s a disastrous one for running a government.
Jared Kushner, meanwhile, will never know shame. Even if his wings get clipped, he will continue his international money-making escapades.
We’ve seen this same playbook before – in places like Uganda, the Philippines and other countries where rulers and their families loot the public. We didn’t think we would see it come to the United States.