Does Jared Kushner's massive debt make him a threat to national security?

The Kushner family owes hundreds of millions on botched real estate ventures, while he travels the world for Trump

By Heather Digby Parton


Published February 15, 2018 8:05AM (EST)

Jared Kushner (Getty/Drew Angerer)
Jared Kushner (Getty/Drew Angerer)

On Wednesday night, in the midst of wall-to-wall coverage of yet another horrific bloody massacre of American children by a violent misfit with a semiautomatic weapon, NBC news reported that more than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017. It's understandable that this news didn't get much play, considering the nightmare taking place in Florida, but it's pretty astonishing in any case.

Among those who didn't have clearances, as of three months ago, were Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, White House Counsel Don McGahn and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Even more stunning is the fact that 10 of 24 National Security Council officials had only interim clearances. This includes former deputy national security adviser for strategy Dina Powell and her replacement, Nadia Schadlow, who was hired in March 2017. A number of other high-level National Security Council members and staff were also working on interim clearances, as of the last available evidence.

Keep in mind that all these people were working on the most important and sensitive issues in the federal government, without proper clearance, after President Trump's first national security adviser had been fired and later pleaded guilty to a crime as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. You might have thought the administration would go to extra lengths to ensure there were no other such issues. Instead, they hired dozens of people who had problems obtaining the proper clearances and apparently didn't think it was a problem.

The most dangerous hire of all may turn out to be the one the president is the least likely to fire. That would be Jared Kushner, whose supposed portfolio runs the gamut from creating Middle East peace to diplomacy with Mexico and China, as well as an array of domestic duties. As Salon's Matthew Sheffield reported on Wednesday, we don't know exactly why Kushner has been denied a clearance but there are many possibilities.

He's heavily implicated in the Russia scandal, for instance, having been part of the notorious Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as various shadowy contacts with Russian diplomats and bankers during the presidential transition. There's also the fact that Kushner keeps being forced to revise his disclosure forms with more and more information about dealings with foreign nationals. He seems to have a bad memory when it comes to his travels and contacts.

Last spring, members of Kushner's family were caught literally selling visas to Chinese investors for $500,000 investments in family properties, using Jared's White House position as a selling point. Remember, China was one of the big items in Kushner's portfolio.

But Kushner has one big problem that may just be the underlying reason he's considered to be such a risky employee that Trump's lawyers reportedly told the president last fall that he needed to let Kushner go: He is drowning in debt. According to Politico, Kushner and his wife Ivanka have recently drawn huge sums of money from lines of credit at Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Signature Bank, raising their debts in those accounts to a range of between $5 million and to $25 million. They reportedly managed to pay down their credit cards, from the $100,000 to $250,000 range to a range of $50,000 to $100,000, which only raises further questions: Why would such rich people be carrying so much high-interest credit card debt in the first place? Who puts a quarter of a million dollars on their Visa card?

Jared and Ivanka have gone from cumulative debt of somewhere between $19 million and $98 million to a range of $31 million to $155 million in the last year alone.

Many of the problems stem from the Kushner family's white-elephant building at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which he bought for $1.8 billion in 2007. They have hundreds of millions due on a mortgage in the next year and are apparently getting desperate. Bloomberg reported last August that over the previous two years, Kushner and his family had sought infusions of cash from foreign investors, including the richest man in France, Israeli banks and insurance companies, a South Korean sovereign wealth fund, Saudi developers and individuals or entities in China and Qatar.

This has led to concerns that Kushner could use — or has perhaps already used — his official position to prop up the family business despite having divested to close relatives his ownership in many projects to conform with government ethics requirements. Federal investigators are examining Kushner’s finances and business dealings, along with those of other Trump associates, as they probe possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Kushner has already testified twice before closed congressional committees and denies mixing family business with his official role.

How would anyone know if he was doing that? Recall the trips Kushner has taken to Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly stays up until 4 a.m. "swapping stories and planning strategy" with the country's new young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Is it unreasonable to think that a man whose family business is in danger of imploding might mention that issue during one of those all-nighters?

There was also Kushner's unexplained meeting with the head of the Russian bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB, which happened to be under U.S. sanctions, and which the bank insists was a business meeting, not a government matter. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the debt-burdened Kushner might have wanted to explore the possibility of a little mutual back-scratching. Meanwhile, in an unrelated matter, prosecutors in Brooklyn are investigating Kushner's relationship with Deutsche Bank and some shady lending that occurred during the presidential campaign, possibly involving some Russian money laundering.

We have a man whose family is in dire financial straits. His personal debt is in the hundreds of millions. He continues to file amendments to his mandatory disclosure forms, a year after taking a senior-level job in the White House. He has access to the United States' most sensitive secrets and travels all over the world, meeting privately with powerful foreign leaders and businessmen. I can't imagine why the FBI and the intelligence agencies might think he's a security risk, can you?

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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