L’Affaire Kushner

A series of revelations about the White House princeling have added further credence to the key claim of the Steele dossier.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens during a joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.
Photo illustration by Derreck Johnson. Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Jared Kushner had a very bad week. So bad in fact, it was hard to keep track of how many bad stories there were. The most publicized event, the White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law losing his security clearance, was the least surprising. The more shocking—and potentially important—revelations are two stories about massive loans he’s sought and their links to Qatar and a third story about how special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating those links. While no crimes have been proven, the stories of Kushner’s loans line up remarkably well with one of the Steele dossier’s core allegations of Russian bribery. According to a report by NBC News on Friday, these dealings are also now a key line of inquiry for Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in our presidential election.

Kushner is currently facing potentially massive ramifications for a disastrous $1.8 billion real estate deal he struck a decade ago. The slew of new stories suggest that he may have orchestrated a foreign policy crisis to pressure Qatar to bail him out. Months later, a firm linked to Qatar gave him a staggeringly large loan. All of these events suggest how Russia might have delivered a possible quid—a potential payment from a huge oil sale through back channels—in return for a Trump administration quo—a reported promise of reduced sanctions.

Let’s start with the key sections of the first big story: On Wednesday, the New York Times reported:

[I]n November, [Private equity firm] Apollo [Global Management] lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper. Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show. …

Mr. Kushner’s firm has sought investments from the Chinese insurer Anbang and from the former prime minister of Qatar. …

One of the largest investors in Apollo’s real estate trust is the Qatari government’s investment fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.

Mr. Kushner’s firm previously sought a $500 million investment from the former head of that Qatari fund for its headquarters at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. That investment never materialized.

Now let’s look at the key sections of the second story: On Friday, the Intercept reported:

The real estate firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City. …

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

So: A Qatari fund acquires major assets from Russia. Kushner’s business seeks money directly from Qatar. The nation, though, does not deliver to Kushner. The U.S. changes its political posture against Qatar at Kushner’s urging, with the alarming possibility that the seemingly manufactured conflict could have escalated into war. (Fortunately, it did not.) Several months later, the Qatar-backed Apollo Group delivers $184 million to Kushner.

All of this should be considered an incredible scandal in its own right, worthy of serious congressional inquiry. Once you factor in, however, the portions of this that are consistent with some of the allegations in the Steele dossier, the stories potentially become even more explosive.

The Steele dossier alleges that Russians made a deal with Carter Page in the summer of 2016 to sell 19 percent of fossil fuel giant Rosneft, a multibillion dollar deal, and secretly transfer benefits to Trump officials. The dossier alleged that Page was a campaign intermediary to meet personally with Russians, and that Igor Sechin—the CEO of Rosneft and a close Putin ally—and Page had held a “secret meeting” to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.” The dossier further alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia. Page has denied that this meeting with Sechin ever took place.

Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, however, confirmed that he at the very least discussed these general topics with key Russian figures at critical points in the Steele dossier timeline. For example, Page confirmed that he had spoken with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft and an employee of Sechin, when in Moscow in July 2016. He also acknowledged “briefly” discussing “a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft” with Baranov. Finally, he would only say that he didn’t “directly” express support for the idea of lifting sanctions on Russia with Baranov.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 9, 2016, a month after the election, Russia made a deal with Qatar to sell 19.5 percent of Rosneft. Reuters reported at the time:

The privatization deal, which Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin called the largest in Russia’s history, was announced by Rosneft in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. Its success suggests the lure of taking a share in one of the world’s biggest oil companies outweighs the risks associated with Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Rosneft had been under pressure to secure a sale of the 19.5 percent stake to help replenish state coffers, hit by an economic slowdown driven by weak oil prices and exacerbated by sanctions.

The deal falls squarely in the middle of a time when Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Page were communicating with Russians in ways that would later prove very embarrassing and potentially suspicious. Here is that timeline, which I initially compiled for my blog in June:

Dec. 1: Just eight days before this oil megadeal, Flynn and Kushner met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and Kushner proposed a secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. After it was revealed in the press and he was interrogated by congressional investigators, Kushner acknowledged that he was seeking to offer the Russians a “secure line” to the transition team. Congressional investigators would later be curious as to whether or not this back channel might have been intended for the purposes of finding someone to help bail out his family’s real estate company.

Dec. 8: Carter Page—as he later confirmed in his own congressional testimony—meets with Rosneft executives, and then flies to London to discuss new business opportunities in Kazakhstan with Gazprom officials.

Dec. 9: The “largest oil deal in Russia’s history” is announced.

Dec. 13: Kushner meets Sergey Gorkov, who chairs Russia’s government-owned VE Bank (VEB) and is Putin’s close confidant. Analysts have described VEB as Putin’s “private slush fund,” a source of money independent from official Russia budgeting. VEB is under strict U.S. sanctions.

Dec. 14: Gorkov reportedly immediately flies to Japan to meet with Putin.

Dec. 29: Obama orders new Russian sanctions for election hacking and interference. On the same day: Flynn calls Kislyak five times about Russian sanctions. Trump tweets about Putin the next day, calling him “very smart” for not responding to Obama’s sanctions before Trump has had a chance to transition into office.

The Rosneft sale was right after Trump’s victory but before the inauguration. It was also right after Kushner’s push for a secret communications link to the Kremlin through the Russia embassy that U.S. intelligence couldn’t access, and right before Kushner’s meeting with Putin’s banker and confidant Gorkov.

Again, while Page has denied meeting with Rosneft boss Sechin, who is strictly limited by U.S. sanctions, he acknowledged he “had a brief lunch with Andrey Baranov.”

“Mr. Sechin is under sanctions, is he not?” Schiff asked Page during congressional questioning. “And as someone working on investor relations for a CEO who is under sanctions, would it be advantageous for that head of investor relations [Baranov] to see those sanctions go away?”

Here Page contradicted himself on whether sanctions were ever discussed. Page first said nothing Baranov “said to me ever implied or asked for anything related to sanctions.” In his very next breath, he confesses “there may have been some general reference” to sanctions.

Natasha Bertrand’s reporting on Page’s testimony lays out further how Page confirmed in his testimony some key elements of the dossier and demonstrated additional evidence for the dossier’s findings. Page, critically, had meetings with Rosneft officials in July 2016 in which those officials discussed both the massive sale of Rosneft and the Trump administration lifting sanctions on Russia. His testimony and his emails confirm that Page got advance approval from high-ranking Trump officials like Sam Clovis to go to Russia for that July trip, and he communicated with Trump officials immediately after the trip congratulating them for a stunning pro-Russia change in the Republican Party platform on Ukraine policy. Page then went back to Russia a day before the Rosneft megadeal was announced to meet with Rosneft executives, and then went to London to talk to Gazprom officials about new investment opportunities.

In considering all these new revelations and how they might connect to the old ones, it’s important to remember Jared Kushner’s business history. Tim O’Brien of Bloomberg Business News laid out that history beautifully in a June Trumpcast interview with Slate Group chairman Jacob Weisberg. O’Brien explained how, 10 years ago, a 26-year-old Jared Kushner made a terrible bet on Manhattan real estate. His father had just been released from prison, and Jared had taken over the family business. He was looking to make a big splash, so he sold off his family’s holdings in New Jersey in order to purchase a huge building in midtown Manhattan—666 5th Ave.—for $1.8 billion. Unfortunately for Kushner, this was in 2007. Markets subsequently crashed and Kushner had a financial debacle on his hands. He negotiated a deal to save the project from bankruptcy with a 10-year loan, but the creditors were set to call in their debts around now. (NBC News reported that $1.4 billion in debt was due in 2019.) About a year ago, Kushner reportedly had a deal with a Chinese bank in place to restructure the deal in a way that would offer a $500 million windfall, but it fell apart after public reporting.

The bottom line is that all this new Kushner news connects more dots in the Steele dossier’s core allegation: that there may have been a quid-pro-quo of Russian oil money for Trump policy change on sanctions. There are still obviously a lot of loose and unknown threads here and no direct evidence yet that Russia is behind any of the Qatari deals. Depending on which dots Mueller is himself able to connect, however, the latest evidence would also strengthen any possible charges against Kushner and a slew of Trump officials, as well as any potential case of obstruction of justice against the president himself. Finally, there is still the even more alarming question about whether the Trump family businesses’ conflicts of interest almost led the president to escalate a regional dispute to the brink of armed conflict. In light of the Steele dossier and how Qatar might implicate Russia, Kushner and Trump have even more to answer for.