- Weeks after leaving office, Jared Kushner obtained a $2 billion investment from the Saudi government.
- Former President Trump’s resorts are also hosting a Saudi-run golf league.
- The chief ethics counsel at a DC watchdog group told Insider both deals could be signs of corruption.
Before serving as an advisor to the president of the United States, Jared Kushner was perhaps best known for sinking $1.8 billion of his family’s money into a New York skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue, a deal that proved to be a costly failure.
It was a surprise, then, when Donald Trump’s son-in-law was not only invited to join the White House staff, but charged with taking the lead on US foreign policy in the Middle East, a job that critics argue proved to be much more lucrative.
Kushner founded his private equity firm in January 2021, just after leaving politics. Six months later he was flush with cash, receiving a $2 billion infusion in courtesy the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund, which is also backing a firm headed by Steve Mnuchin, the former Treasury secretary.
The Saudi support came despite the kingdom’s own financial advisers urging against any investment in Kushner’s new company, citing the “inexperience” of its top brass. It also came after Kushner, in his official capacity as a Trump advisor, had befriended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: The New York Times reported in 2018 that the pair “were on a first-name basis,” their relationship deepening despite the prince being identified as the mastermind of a plot to murder a journalist and US citizen, Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump, meanwhile, has welcomed the Saudi-funded LIV Golf to his resorts — this after backing the Saudi government’s war in Yemen and using emergency powers to sell it billions of dollars worth of weapons over the objections of Congress. Is it a quid pro quo, as some Democrats suggest, or simply a reflection of Trump’s properties being some of the best in the world, as the former president insists?
Virginia Canter is the chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that has harshly criticized Trump and his family members for, in its view, profiting off their roles in government. In an interview, Canter said it’s too soon to say whether the appearance of corruption is any real indication of criminal wrongdoing. But she said it’s imperative that Congress investigate — and argued that Republican efforts to focus on Hunter Biden, instead, are a distraction.
A spokesperson for Mnuchin’s Liberty Strategic Capital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A representative for Kushner’s Affinity Partners also did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, however, a spokesperson told The New York Times that Kushner “fully abided by all legal and ethical guidelines both during and after his government service.”
Let’s start with Jared Kushner before we get into the LIV Golf situation. Is there any precedent for this kind of arrangement?
No — other than Mnuchin. Both of them, Mnuchin and Kushner, have at least $2 billion deals, based on public reporting. There’s nothing — nothing — like this. I think for past administration officials, there might be concerns that they went to work for Goldman Sachs or an investment company. And in most cases, the former government official would take a one-year cooling-off period and go teach or go work for a think tank.
Anybody with half a brain would see that this was problematic. You have John Bolton, Trump’s own national security advisor, making it very clear that you had somebody, like Jared — and President Trump, apparently — working to promote their business interests. You don’t usually get a former national security advisor to call out their former colleagues like this. It’s obvious to just about anybody. You had somebody like Jared, no diplomatic experience, and all of a sudden he’s running foreign policy over the Secretary of State. They totally disregarded Rex Tillerson, excluded him from meetings, disregarded his advice over Jared, who had significant financial problems with his real estate investment company and who had retained his real estate financial interest while was in office. I mean, this had about a thousand red flags. And then he leaves government service and somebody who has no prior private equity fund experience is handed $2 billion-plus by the Saudi government to run a private equity fund.
There’s no precedent and we have to make sure this never happens again. And we need to investigate. Moreover, we need to investigate his negotiations with Mohammed bin Salman. So, you know, he was on that last-minute trip in January 2021, using government resources to fly to Saudi Arabia. But he never got the Saudis to sign on to the Abraham Accords, which was the ostensible reason. We need to have an investigation into who was in those meetings and find out whether or not any discussions happened over business deals after he left office. And if so, that would lead you into a potential violation of 18 USC 208.
And what is that?
Well, that would be whether he was working on something that would’ve affected his financial interests as a government official.
We can see that it is a bad look, to be colloquial. But how would you ever prove wrongdoing here?
You have to investigate. You have a person who’s never managed a private equity fund; somebody who was responsible solely, almost, for US foreign policy regarding that country; and the money itself was approved by MBS after an advisory committee rejected it. You have to figure out what exactly their discussions were about and get more granular. We need more facts developed. I’m not saying there’s an actual violation, but you need to — because of the horrendous appearance issue — flesh out those discussions.
CREW has called for new legislation to address apparent conflicts of interest. Why isn’t the existing law enough?
Right now there’s a one-year statutory bar on representing a foreign entity for former senior government officials at that level. But there’s nothing that bars them from compensation for any reason other than what’s specifically covered by that statute, most of which concerns influencing US policy. We could be allowing our public officials to be bought — to sell out the interests of the American people so that they can receive $2 billion after they leave government. And our current statute doesn’t adequately prevent that from happening.
It won’t take a lot of language to address it. But, it would require legislation to bar former senior government officials from accepting compensation or other financial benefits, including funding for business purposes, from a foreign government or country over which they had official responsibility.
If there were a legislative response to this apparent conflict of interest, one could expect to hear the argument that this is another example of Democrats and liberals singling out the Trump administration — trying to penalize them and trying to prevent them from making a living, post-office. What would you say to that?
Really it’s about preventing this kind of future abuse from happening. This would apply to any government official who would be covered under the statute in the future. And I think the other thing we’d have to do is address another conflict-of-interest statute called 18 USC 209, which bars government officials from being able to accept supplementation of salary for their official duties. But there’s a carve route for somebody who doesn’t accept a salary, and neither Jared nor Ivanka accepted a salary. So we would have to also eliminate that loophole.
And now how does this all fit in with the other part of this, which is LIV Golf and Trump resorts hosting it?
All you have to do is take a look at what has been reported by Bob Woodward. Trump said, in a recorded interview, “I saved his ass.” And then, as Mike Pompeo recalled in his memoir, Trump saying: “Go and have a good time. Tell him [Mohamed bin Salman] he owes us.” He’s acting like a mob boss.
There’s no modern president who came who kept these kinds of financial assets and financial interests. Trump, not only did he keep his company, the Trump Organization, but he’s a transactional president, right? And he’s still thinking about his bottom line — “you owe me” for not endorsing the CIA conclusion that MBS approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi. This should be investigated, and it should be a pretty easy fix. What’s the former president getting to host those golf tournaments and, you know, what’s the premium [compared to other golf events]? And then we can put a price on what the Saudis got from Trump when he was president.
Are you suggesting that there could be anything illegal about that relationship? Are presidents governed by the same conflict-of-interest statutes as other public officials?
No, they don’t have the same [restrictions], but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Let’s look at what our founding fathers said: the biggest threat to us being able to maintain a democracy was the threat of foreign corruption. It goes back to the provision of the emoluments clause in the Constitution. I don’t think they envisioned a Trump or a Kushner. And so now we have to anticipate that. But you need your facts first. Let’s gather the facts and then take appropriate legislative action.
And I think, frankly, this threat of foreign corruption — we need to prevent that at every level. For government officials who are only in office for two to four years, or in the president’s case at most eight years, you want to disincentivize them from selling out the interests of US citizens.
I imagine I’ll get a reader email saying, “What about Hunter Biden? He was screwing around in China and Ukraine and trying to get contracts there.”
He was never a government official! There is a big red line here, right? Right. You have two people who took the oath to the Constitution — not Hunter Biden. This guy is in a whole separate category. You have the president of the United States directing his Secretary of State to remind MBS “you owe me.” And then you have his son-in-law, within weeks of leaving government, negotiating a $2-plus billion dollar deal with the country over which he had official responsibility. There’s no comparison, right? It’s a total red herring.
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