"Financial conflict of interest": Dems probe whether Kushner influenced policy to enrich himself

Congress wants to know if Jared sought to "influence" or "interfere with" policy to advance business interests

Published December 7, 2022 2:59PM (EST)

US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner  (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Democrats on two congressional committees have begun an intensive effort to find out whether Jared Kushner's policy actions in the Persian Gulf while working as a senior White House advisor were influenced by the bailout of a property that his family business owned. 

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Oversight Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., cited previously undisclosed emails related to Kushner in letters to the Departments of State and Defense on Monday requesting other materials that they believe could reveal whether "Kushner's financial conflict of interest may have led him to improperly influence U.S. tax, trade and national security policies for his own financial gain."

The letters, obtained by The Washington Post, seek information about the actions of Kushner and his father, Charles Kushner, to bail out a 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in 2018. As a result of a deal with Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management, which invested $1.2 billion for a 99-year lease, the Kushner family company was able to avoid defaulting on a loan that was due the next year. 

The deal has been questioned by Democrats for years due to the involvement of the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund that had a stake in one of Brookfield's investment arms.

Brookfield stated in 2018 that during the negotiations with the Kushner family company, "no Qatar-linked entity has any involvement in or even knowledge of this potential transaction," but Democrats have long been suspicious about whether Qatari money was used in the bailout.

Wyden and Maloney are now broadening their search, seeking documents related to their concerns that the deal could have impacted Kushner's U.S. policy in the Middle East. Neither Kushner — who is married to former president Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump — nor Charles Kushner, who currently serves as chairman of the Kushner real estate company, responded to the Times' requests for comment.

The Fifth Avenue property — known as 666 Fifth Ave. at the time and now known as 660 Fifth Ave. — has continued to haunt Kushner and his career. 

After his father was convicted of federal tax evasion in 2005 and went to prison, Kushner set his eyes on rebuilding the family's real estate business. After selling many of the company's New Jersey apartments, Kushner was able to gather $1.8 billion for the Fifth Avenue property — the most expensive purchase of an office building in the United States at the time. 

Kushner called it a "great acquisition," but after the 2008 real estate crash, the value of the property decreased significantly and threatened the family business. "There was no way I was going to let the investment fail," Kushner wrote of the property in his recent memoir. "I had very little leverage, so I was willing to talk to anybody," he admitted.

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While working on the Trump campaign in 2016, Kushner was also trying to find an investor to buy the property. A new email obtained by the committees found that Kushner spoke with top Brookfield officials regarding the property on April 15, 2016. 

In an email with the subject line "re 666," sent five days after the meeting, Brookfield's then-chairman, Ric Clark, wrote: "Jared — thanks for coming down last Friday. We are excited about your project." 

Clark ended the email congratulating Kushner on Trump's victory in the New York Republican primary the day before, which helped secure his nomination. 

Months later, in December 2016, Kushner was working on Trump's transition team while simultaneously meeting with a Chinese insurance firm to discuss their potential investment in the property, according to reporting from The New York Times. Kushner also met with a Russian banker at the time. While Kushner told Congress that they never approached the subject of the family business, the bank said they discussed "promising business lines and sectors."

Just as Kushner began his role in the White House, he cut ties with the family company and divested himself of his interest in the Fifth Avenue property. However, he kept real estate assets valued between $132 million and $407 million, reporting from The Post revealed.

In April 2017, Charles Kushner held a meeting with Qatar's finance minister to discuss the property while his son was working on Middle East policy in the Trump Administration. He later told The Post that even if the Qataris had offered him the money on the spot, he would have declined due to any appearance of a conflict of interest.

During his time at the White House, Jared Kushner had a significant influence in changing policy affecting Qatar. He persuaded his father-in-law to help foster ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia during the former president's trip to the nation in May 2017. Just one month later, Saudi Arabia announced that they would break their diplomatic relationship with Qatar, alleging that the country was financing terrorism, and joined several Arab nations in imposing blockades against them.

In his memoir, Kushner said that despite accusations from people in the administration that he influenced Saudi Arabia's decision, he was not responsible for the severing of ties, as he "tried to convince them to delay the decision." He also claimed to help lift the blockade against Qatar. Brookfield was not mentioned in his memoir.

While Charles Kushner told The Post in January 2018 that he purposefully avoided doing business with sovereign investment funds to avoid a conflict of interest with his son's job, emails show that he spoke with Clark, the Brookfield chairman, about investing in the Fifth Avenue property a month later. Charles Kushner's associate then emailed Clark a deal proposal summary. 

Qatar's leader visited the White House two months after the emails, and the Trump Administration officially called for the end to the blockade. The committees claimed in their letter that the Trump Administration's support for the blockade "evaporated shortly after Charles Kushner's discussion with Brookfield," but did not cite evidence linking the two events. 

Toward the end of the Trump Administration, Charles Kushner received a pardon from Trump for his tax-related conviction and Jared Kushner traveled to the Persian Gulf to finalize a deal ending the blockade of Qatar. 

One day after the end of Trump's presidency, Kushner created a private equity firm, receiving a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Crown Prince was found by the CIA to have ordered the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In the past few days, Kushner traveled to Qatar, which is hosting the FIFA World Cup, and has been photographed with leaders of the nation. At the same time, Democrats are seeking more information into the bailout of the Fifth Avenue property from Brookfield. 

In December 2020, Wyden wrote to Brookfield saying that despite their assurances that no Qatari money was involved in the business deal, "it appears that is exactly what happened," and requested further documentation regarding the matter. 

On Oct. 13, 2022, Wyden sent a follow up letter to Brookfield, claiming the company was "stonewalling on whether it intentionally misled the public" about the use of Qatari funds, as the company's previous statements "turned out to be false."

Brookfield issued a statement to The Post regarding Wyden's allegations but did not address whether Qatar was involved in the transaction: "We have been fully transparent and responded to all requests. As we have said all along, the decision to acquire this building was based purely on its own merits — it was an iconic, underperforming building in a prime location in need of significant redevelopment. The building has now been transformed, and we believe it will exceed our expectations in delivering value for our clients."

The Qatar Investment Authority said in an email to The Post that it would not comment on the matter. 

Qatari officials have maintained that they had no knowledge of Brookfield's investment until it was announced in the media. Reuters reported in 2019 that due to the controversy, the Qatar Investment Authority triggered a "strategy revamp" that avoids putting money in investment funds they do not control. 

The committees this week have taken on a more aggressive approach to their mission, requesting all relevant information and correspondence on the Kushner family company, Brookfield, the Qatari fund, the blockade and other matters. The committee added that they are seeking any correspondence that refers to "Kushner seeking to influence, interfere with, or supersede the normal operations and responsibilities" of the State and Defense Departments

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

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Aggregate Carolyn Maloney Charles Kushner Donald Trump Jared Kushner Politics Ron Wyden