Special counsel Robert Mueller’s interest in Jared Kushner’s myriad foreign business dealings has come into greater focus in recent days. Fresh reports have aired new details on how, exactly, his work for his family’s struggling real estate firm during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition have left him vulnerable to foreign interests seeking leverage with the U.S. government.
Mueller is drilling down on Kushner’s business interactions with individuals not only from Russia, but from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and China, according to NBC News.
One major concern: Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s flashy Manhattan commercial investment property, 666 Fifth Avenue. Though Kushner divested his interest in the building, which remains mired in $1.2 billion debt, when he joined the White House as a senior advisor in January 2016, he “retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies.”
And he met with a number of foreign officials during the transition, as his family’s firm frantically searched for a financial lifeline. Mueller’s team is reportedly interested in whether those contacts later influenced the Trump administration’s policy decisions.
At least four countries have discussed ways to manipulate the top White House adviser, as the Washington Post reported last week.
News that Mueller is homing in on Kushner comes as the latter’s interim security clearance was downgraded, curbing his access to highly classified information. Kushner had previously come under scrutiny for repeatedly updating his financial filings and list of foreign contacts.
Here’s TPM’s comprehensive look at which countries’ ties to Kushner we know the feds are interested in, and what questions they may have.
The United Arab Emirates
Mueller has taken a particular interest in Kushner’s interactions with individuals from the United Arab Emirates, according to NBC.
The New York Times on Saturday reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the discussions, that Mueller’s team is looking into the role a Lebanese-American businessman played during President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition.
According to the New York Times, Mueller’s team has questioned George Nader, the businessman in question, and has also asked witnesses about the possibility that the U.A.E. might have directed money to support Trump’s campaign in order to buy influence.
Nader met frequently with Kushner and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in the early months of Trump’s presidency, according to the New York Times. Nader also visited the White House numerous times and received a detailed report from top Trump fundraiser Elliot Broidy about a private meeting Broidy had with Trump, according to the New York Times.
The Washington Post reported last week, citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials familiar with reports on the subject, that officials in the U.A.E., as well as those in other countries, privately discussed ways to manipulate Kushner to the U.A.E.’s advantage. It was not clear if the U.A.E. officials or those in the other countries listed — China, Israel and Mexico — acted on those discussions.
In July 2017, the Intercept reported that Jared Kushner and his father Charles Kushner tried to negotiate with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, a billionaire and formerly Qatar’s foreign minister and prime minister, on a deal worth $500 million.
The Intercept reported last week, citing two unnamed sources in the financial industry, that Charles Kushner met with Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi in April 2017 to discuss financing for the Kushners’ office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The Kushner family has sought several deals to refinance the property, which is in dire financial straits.
According to the report, Charles Kushner met with Al Emadi at the St. Regis Hotel in New York for 30 minutes, but Al Emadi did not attend a follow-up meeting the next day, held at 666 Fifth Avenue, in person.
Not long afterward, in June 2017, Trump announced his support for four gulf states who implemented a blockade against Qatar. One of those states was the U.A.E.
Trump’s support — and Kushner’s, according to NBC News — was in direct contradiction of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt to “ease the blockade” against Qatar.
According to NBC News, Qatari officials “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,” but ultimately did not do so because they feared doing so would put further strain on Qatar’s relationship with Trump’s administration.
Chris Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, told NBC News, “To be clear, we did not meet with anyone from the Qatari Government to solicit sovereign funds for any of our projects. To suggest otherwise, is inaccurate and false.”
NBC News reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Mueller’s team is investigating discussions Kushner had during the transition with individuals from Turkey, though it is not clear what those discussions were.
According to NBC News, Mueller’s team is also looking into whether Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed a potential deal with Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak in December 2016 during the presidential transition. Albayrak is also Turkey’s minister of energy and natural resources.
Flynn in December 2017 pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
A central question of the Mueller investigation is whether Trump campaign officials like Kushner promised Russian officials more favorable policy in exchange for assistance with their electoral victory. But one Russian meeting Kushner held might directly touch on his own financial interests.
In December 2016, Kushner hosted Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank, for a meeting at Trump Tower. The bank, known as VEB, has been under strict U.S. sanctions since 2014, and Gorkov is an alum of Russia’s so-called “spy school,” the Academy of the Federal Security Service.
Mueller’s team is trying to get to the bottom of exactly why Kushner took the meeting with such a controversial figure and what they discussed, according to the New York Times. Investigators are reportedly probing whether he sought Russian financing for 666 Fifth Ave. in exchange for lifting sanctions against VEB and other Russian companies, per that report.
The various parties have offered strikingly different explanations for the sit-down. While the bank and Kremlin have said Kushner held the talks in his capacity as head of Kushner Cos., the Trump administration insisted Kushner was acting as a transition official at the time.
Trump’s son-in-law failed to include the meeting on his initial application for a security clearance, which requires applicants to list all contacts with foreign officials over the past seven years. Kushner’s then-attorney said the omission was an error.
666 Fifth Ave. crops up yet again in Kushner’s interactions with China. Just one week after Trump’s election, Kushner met with executives of Chinese conglomerate Anbang Insurance, including chairman Wu Xiaohui.
The two parties were close to securing a deal for Anbang to invest in the luxury office tower, but talks collapsed in March 2017.
CNN has reported that Mueller’s team wants to know what was discussed in their talks. According to the Washington Post and New Yorker, China is among the countries that have discussed how to seek leverage over the Trump administration through Kushner.
Other China-related projects have also come under scrutiny. This January, Kushner Cos. abandoned efforts to secure funding from wealthy Chinese investors for a planned mixed-use tower in Jersey City. Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer explicitly mentioned her ties to the White House in a presentation to prospective investors in Shanghai last May. At the event, she talked up the so-called EB-5 program, which offers temporary U.S. visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in certain U.S. real estate projects. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have reportedly subpoenaed documents from Kushner Cos. about its reliance on EB-5s.
Ivanka Trump has been spared much of the federal scrutiny paid to her husband, with one notable exception. CNN revealed last week that FBI counterintelligence officials are probing the financing and negotiations of the Trump Tower International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver—a project she spearheaded. It is unclear if the probe has any relation to Mueller’s investigation.
One current and former U.S. official told CNN that the FBI has questions about the development of the tower, which opened in February 2017 and was developed by big-name developer Joo Kim Tiah. Tiah is a member of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families and head of the Holborn Group, his family’s Canada-based development company.
Both Tiah and Ivanka Trump have acknowledged coordinating closely on the 2015 launch of a Trump-branded VIP service for condo residents, per CNN. Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten noted that the Trump Organization only had a licensing deal with the building and did not finance it or sell individual units.
The company offered a similar explanation after the Wall Street Journal reported last year that federal investigators were probing the financing of another Canadian project: Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto.
Per the Journal, investigators were interested in the hundreds of millions of dollars Trump’s former business partner, Alex Shnaider, received from Vnesheconombank for a separate asset sale shortly before funneling money into the Toronto project. One personal familiar with the probe told the Journal that all interactions between Trump, his associates, and the bank are under scrutiny. There is no indication that Ivanka Trump is under scrutiny in relation to the Toronto project.