Democrats Launch Investigation Into Jared Kushner’s Scheme to Sell 666 5th Avenue to Qatar
The Trump Administration is now embroiled in another scandal involving attempts to extort a foreign government.
Back in 2017, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kusher, son-in-law to President Donald Trump, secretly met with Qatari officials in a scheme to receive a nearly $1 billion bailout to cover a $1.4 billion loan payment that was coming due in February of 2019 for his family’s flagship New York skyscraper, 666 5th Avenue.
On Wednesday, two Democratic lawmakers – Senator Ron Wyden (OR) and Representative Joaquin Castro (TX) – opened an investigation into whether Kushner pushed Trump to support a blockade on Qatar in order to pressure the Qatari government into covering his debts.
In a joint letter to Scott Gast, the president’s senior attorney in the White House Counsel’s office, Wyden and Castro requested “more information” surrounding the suspected scheme.
First, some background.
The Kushners purchased the building in 2007 for $1.8 billion, right before the Great Recession tanked the American economy, saddling the family with a massive debt they have struggled to repay ever since.
In 2011, half of 666’s commercial space was sold to Vornado Realty Trust, one of the largest real estate developers in Manhattan, to offset some of the property’s liabilities.
Shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, Kushner and his father Charles began negotiating with Qatari investor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. One of the meetings took place in Trump Tower in 2016. While HBJ initially agreed to lend the Kushners $500 million, the deal fell apart because the Kushners failed to secure additional financing from other sources.
When Kushner, who was Trump’s conduit to foreign governments during the campaign, formally joined the Trump Administration in 2017, he and his father reportedly met with Qatari Finance Minister Sharif Al Emadi in a bid to get a bailout from the $250 billion Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund.
That deal also never materialized.
In the following weeks and months, the United States shocked the international community by expressing its support for a blockade on Qatar led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain, who severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and accused its government of financing terrorism and backing Iran.
Kushner, according to reports at the time, was the most vocal propoent of the policy shift, which carved a schism between the Deparment of Defense, the Department of State, and the White House.
The blockade of Qatar was a “very complex situation,” said James Mattis, who was serving as Secretary of Defense at the time.
“We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar,” said then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade. We’re seeing shortages of food. Families are being forcibly separated, and children pulled out of school. We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during this holy month of Ramadan, but they can be addressed immediately. The blockade is also impairing U.S. and other international business activities in the region. The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS.”
Less than an hour later, Trump issued his own statement:
The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level, and in the wake of that conference, nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior. So we had a decision to make: Do we take the easy road, or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding — they have to end that funding — and its extremist ideology in terms of funding.
In 2018, Bloomberg News reported that “666 Fifth Avenue’s tower’s cash flow is enough to cover only around half of the debt payments on the building, down from 66 percent last year.”
By August of that year, as the coziness between the Trump Administration and the Saudis tightened, Kushner eventually received a $1.1 billion bailout in the form of a 99-year lease agreement with Brookfield Asset Management, New York City’s biggest developer and whose second-largest investor is the Qatar Investment Authority.
The Qatar Investment Authority said it had “absolutely no involvement in the 666 Fifth Avenue development.”
Then, in November of 2018, Brookfield was granted a $300 million loan by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm with ties to Qatar, to help cover its 666 5th Avenue liabilities.
The tower was appraised for $820 million in 2019.
Fast-forward to today.
“We write to seek information on any ethics guidance that has been provided to Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner on potential conflicts of interest related to Kushner Companies, a real estate company owned and operated by his family in which he remains a significant investor,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Gast.
“It was against this backdrop that Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, met in April 2017 with Qatari Finance Minister Sharif Al Emadi, to solicit an investment from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for the 666 Fifth Avenue property. According to a financial analyst familiar with the meeting, Charles Kushner asked the Qataris ‘for just under a billion dollars.’ During this private meeting, Saudi and UAE officials reportedly discussed the blockade they were planning to impose on Qatar with him,” the Democrats stated, alluding to reporting by The New Yorker.
“Mr. Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, has made the unprecedented choice to serve as Assistant and Senior Adviser to the President while still retaining his stake in a substantial amount of real estate holdings and assets directly linked to Kushner Companies, a family business in which he served as the Chief Executive Officer until joining the Administration,” the letter continued. “Jared Kushner’s initial public financial disclosure form filed in 2017 indicates that he retained almost 90 percent of his real estate holdings, which at the time were valued between $132 million and $407 million.”
Wyden and Castro concluded their letter with a reminder about what the law states:
The Code of Federal Regulations, which contains civil ethics rules, prohibits any White House employee from ‘using his public office for his own private gain… or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a non-governmental capacity.’ Similarly, criminal conflict of interest statutes for White House employees prohibit Mr. Kushner from being involved in matters affecting his financial interests as well as those of his wife and relatives.
The lawmakers demanded that the White House Counsel’s office swiftly provide answers:
In order to better understand Jared Kushner’s potential conflicts of interest, as well as to ensure that they have not influenced U.S. policy in the Middle East, and to consider any necessary legislative responses, I ask that you provide answers to the following questions, as well as the documents requested below no later than December 23, 2020:
1. Has Jared Kushner or anyone acting on his behalf ever sought or received advice or an opinion, whether formally or informally, from the Office of Government Ethics or White House Counsel with regard to his work on Middle East policy? If so, please provide copies of any and all documents related to such advice or opinion.
2. Has the Office of Government Ethics or White House counsel ever provided, or been asked to provide advice or an opinion, whether formal or informal, regarding any member of the Kushner family or any entity associated with Jared Kushner? If so, please provide copies of any and all documents related to such advice or opinion.
3. Please provide a full and complete list of issues, countries, companies and/or matters from which Jared Kushner has been advised to consider recusing himself and/or did, in fact, recuse himself. For each such item, please provide dates, topics, and a full description of the reason for such recusal.
Wyden and Castro also sent a letter, a portion of which was obtained by Law and Crime, to Brookfield CEO Bruce Flatt, asking him to disclose what knowledge he and his development firm harbor about Kushner’s relationship with the Qataris.
“During negotiations with Kushner Companies, were any representatives from Brookfield Asset Management aware that Mr. Kushner and his family had held previous discussions with Qatari government officials and businessmen, including the April 24, 2017 meeting between Charles Kushner and Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi?” they asked.
The corruption is palpable. The question is, will anyone involved face consequences?
Forty-two days until the inauguration.