The Real Deal New York

Kushner (the musical) on ice

The 36-year-old real estate scion’s White House role and family business are starting to collide, and questions are mounting
By Will Parker | July 01, 2017 01:00PM

Jared Kushner (Credit: Getty)

When White House adviser and Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner TRData LogoTINY spoke publicly for the first time in his current role in June, many felt underwhelmed.

Six months of “palace intrigue” reporting on the silent adviser had created a Rasputinesque character who pressed his thumb on every major item to cross the president’s desk, from Middle East peace negotiations to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

“Jared has actually become much more famous than me … I’m a little bit upset at that,” President Trump joked at a meeting with congressional leaders last month.

Yet the 36-year-old scion’s short speech to some of the country’s top tech CEOs — mostly focused on streamlining the government’s out-of-date electronic systems — shed almost no new light on the man who is often viewed as a chief architect of Trump’s policy agenda. Apparently, the Department of Defense still uses 8-inch floppy disks, but that may not have wowed many who were watching.

The lukewarm address belied Kushner’s front-and-center position in what is perhaps the biggest American political investigation since Watergate — into potential collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials. And increasingly, reports indicate that Kushner’s real estate dealings are of great interest to investigators and lawmakers alike.

On Jan. 7, the New York Times reported Kushner Companies was in talks with Chinese insurance conglomerate Anbang to partner on a revamp of its troubled trophy office tower, 666 Fifth Avenue, which has several empty offices and $1.3 billion in loans coming due in the next two years. Less than two weeks after the November election, Kushner had dined with Anbang Chairman Wu Xiaohui and other executives at the Waldorf Astoria amid the ongoing business discussions.

Then in March, Kushner was reported to have met with Sergey Gorkov — head of the Russian state-operated Vnesheconombank, on which the U.S. has imposed sanctions — just weeks after the Anbang dinner, in an encounter the bank described as part of a promotional roadshow. At the time, Kushner was still CEO of his family’s real estate empire. But he failed to disclose the Gorkov encounter when he filed security clearance forms this year. He also failed to mention a meeting that occurred in early December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Kushner allegedly discussed setting up a back channel to the Russian government.

The Gorkov meeting has not only become a key event in the investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign operatives and Russian officials. It could also tie together the two worlds Kushner has vowed to keep separate: real estate and politics.

For the past few months, investigators working for the Senate Intelligence Committee have been looking into whether 666 Fifth Avenue’s weak financial position made Kushner more vulnerable to the Russians — since his family was in need of the sort of financing that Vnesheconombank could provide (if no longer under U.S. sanctions). Intelligence investigators for the House of Representatives reportedly followed suit in June, pursuing the same line of inquiry. Kushner, who sold his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue to a family-operated trust in January, has said he will cooperate with any investigations. He was expected to testify in a closed Senate hearing sometime in June, but that hearing remains unscheduled.

But it’s not just intelligence investigators who want to know more about Kushner’s involvement in his family’s company and its latest dealings. Last month, members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees penned a nine-page letter to Kushner Companies President Laurent Morali, asking for detailed information on how the company raises money for projects through the controversial EB-5 visa program and how it touts its connections to the White House to potential investors.

While the company did not respond to the lawmakers by their requested June 16 deadline, it recently apologized for a May incident in Shanghai in which Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, referenced her brother’s role in the White House during a project pitch.

Apart from inquiries about his family’s business affairs, Kushner has also popped up as a key figure in investigations more closely tied to the president. He was reportedly one of the strongest voices in the White House pressing Trump to fire Comey, who was leading the agency’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller is now examining whether or not that firing constituted an obstruction of justice.

On June 27, Kushner hired a new attorney to guide him through the investigations after it was reported that one of his current lawyers, Jamie Gorelick, had close ties to Mueller, having worked at the same Washington law firm. So Kushner brought on Abbe Lowell — a trial lawyer who represented corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who currently faces corruption charges.

New York City and America are still trying to understand both versions of Kushner, the real estate scion and the White House son-in-law, and if the recent developments in Washington are any indication, questions are piling up fast.