Trump and Kushner’s Saudi ties are an ethical minefield

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A few weeks after leaving office, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from the Saudi government. Former President Trump’s resorts also host a Saudi-led golf league. The chief ethics counselor of a DC watchdog group told Insider that both deals could be signs of corruption. Something is loading.

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Before serving as an adviser to the President of the United States, Jared Kushner was perhaps best known for investing $1.8 billion of his family’s money in a New York skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue, a deal that turned out to be a costly failure.

So it came as a surprise when Donald Trump’s son-in-law was not only invited to join the staff of the White House, but tasked with taking the helm of US foreign policy in the Middle East, a job that critics say will take a turn for the worse. turned out to be much more lucrative.

Kushner founded his private equity firm in January 2021, just after leaving politics. Six months later, he was full of money, receiving a $2 billion injection from the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, which also backs a company run by Steve Mnuchin, the former treasury secretary.

The Saudi backing came despite the kingdom’s own financial advisers urging against any investment in Kushner’s new company, citing the “inexperience” of its top brass. It also happened after Kushner, in his official capacity as an adviser to Trump, befriended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: The New York Times reported in 2018 that the couple “were by first name”. , their relationship deepening despite the prince. to be identified as the mastermind of a plot to assassinate a journalist and American citizen, Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump, meanwhile, has welcomed the Saudi-funded LIV Golf into his compounds – this after backing the Saudi government’s war in Yemen and using emergency powers to sell it billions of dollars worth of weapons despite objections from Congress. Is it a quid pro quo, as some Democrats suggest, or just a reflection of Trump’s properties being among the best in the world, as the former president claims?

Virginia Canter is the chief ethics adviser for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that has harshly criticized Trump and his family members for, in its view, taking advantage of their roles in government. In an interview, Canter said it’s too early to tell if the appearance of corruption is a real indication of foul play. But she said it was imperative that Congress investigate — and argued that Republican efforts to focus on Hunter Biden were more of a distraction.

A spokesperson for Mnuchin’s Liberty Strategic Capital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Kushner’s Affinity Partners also did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, however, a spokesperson told The New York Times that Kushner “fully complied with all legal and ethical guidelines during and after his government service.”

Let’s start with Jared Kushner before we get into the LIV Golf situation. Is there a precedent for this type of arrangement?

No – apart from Mnuchin. The two, Mnuchin and Kushner, have struck deals worth at least $2 billion, based on public reports. There is nothing – nothing – like that. I think for former administration officials, there might be fears that they went to work for Goldman Sachs or an investment company. And in most cases, the former government official would take a year off and go teach or work for a think tank.

Anyone with half a brain would see that was problematic. You have John Bolton, Trump’s own national security adviser, making it very clear that you had someone, like Jared – and President Trump, apparently – working to further their business interests. You don’t usually get a former national security adviser calling their former colleagues that. It’s obvious to almost everyone. You had someone like Jared, with no diplomatic experience, and all of a sudden he’s in charge of foreign policy above the secretary of state. They totally ignored Rex Tillerson, kicked him out of meetings, ignored his advice on Jared, who had significant financial issues with his real estate investment firm and retained his real estate financial interests during his tenure. I mean, this had about a thousand red flags. And then he leaves the civil service and someone with no prior experience in private equity funds is given over $2 billion by the Saudi government to run a private equity fund.

There is no precedent and we need to make sure it never happens again. And we have to investigate. Additionally, we need to investigate his dealings with Mohammed bin Salman. So, you know, he was on a last-minute trip in January 2021, using government resources to get to Saudi Arabia. But he never convinced the Saudis to sign the Abraham Accords, which was the apparent reason. We need to investigate who attended these meetings and whether or not discussions took place on trade deals after he left. And if so, that would land you in a potential violation of 18 USC 208.

And what is that?

Well, it would be if he was working on something that affected his financial interests as a government official.

We can see that’s a bad look, to be familiar with. But how could you prove wrongdoing here?

You must investigate. You have someone who has never managed a private equity fund; someone who was responsible only, almost, for American foreign policy vis-à-vis this country; and the money itself was approved by MBS after an advisory board rejected it. You need to understand what exactly their discussions were about and get more specific. We need more developed facts. I’m not saying there’s an actual violation, but you need to – due to the horrible appearance issue – flesh out these threads.

CREW has called for new legislation to deal with apparent conflicts of interest. Why is the existing law not sufficient?

Currently, there is a one-year legal ban on representing a foreign entity for former senior officials at this level. But nothing prevents them from being compensated for any reason other than what is specifically covered by this law, most of which relates to the influence of American politics. We could allow our public servants to be bought off – to sell off the interests of the American people so that they could receive $2 billion after leaving government. And our current law does not adequately prevent that from happening.

It won’t take much language to approach it. But, there should be legislation to prohibit former senior officials from accepting compensation or other financial benefits, including funding for business purposes, from a foreign government or country over which they had official responsibility. .

If there were a legislative response to this apparent conflict of interest, one would expect to hear the argument that this is yet another example of Democrats and liberals singling out the Trump administration — trying to penalizing them and trying to prevent them from earning a living, after-office. How about that?

It’s really about preventing this kind of future abuse from happening. This would apply to any government official who is covered by the law in the future. And I think the other thing we should do is address another conflict of interest law called 18 USC 209, which prohibits government officials from being able to accept extra pay for their official functions. But there is a way forward for someone who doesn’t accept a salary, and neither Jared nor Ivanka has accepted a salary. This loophole should therefore also be closed.

And now how does this all fit in with the other part of this, which is the LIV Golf and Trump resorts that house it?

All you have to do is take a look at what was reported by Bob Woodward. Trump said, in a taped interview, “I saved his ass.” And then, as Mike Pompeo recalled in his memoir, Trump said, “Go and have a good time. Tell him [Mohamed bin Salman] he owes us.” He acts like a mafia boss.

There has not been a modern president who has kept these kinds of financial assets and financial interests. Trump, not only did he keep his company, the Trump Organization, but he’s a transactional president, right? And he’s still thinking about his end result – “you owe me” for not approving the CIA’s conclusion that MBS approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi. This should be investigated, and it should be a fairly easy fix. What does the former president get for hosting these golf tournaments and, you know, what’s the bonus [compared to other golf events]? And then we can put a price on what the Saudis got from Trump when he was president.

Are you suggesting that there might be anything illegal in this relationship? Are presidents subject to the same conflict of interest laws as other public officials?

No, they don’t have the same [restrictions], but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Look at what our founding fathers said: the greatest threat to our ability to sustain a democracy was the threat of foreign corruption. This goes back to the provision of the emoluments clause in the Constitution. I don’t think they were considering a Trump or a Kushner. And now we have to anticipate that. But you need your facts first. Let’s get the facts and then take the appropriate legislative action.

And I think, frankly, this threat of foreign corruption – we have to prevent that at all levels. For government officials who are only in office for two to four years, or in the president’s case no more than eight years, you want to deter them from selling out the interests of American citizens.

I imagine I’ll get a reader email saying, “What about Hunter Biden? He was scrambling in China and Ukraine and trying to get contracts there.”

He was never a government official! There’s a big red line here, right? LAW. You have two people who have been sworn to the Constitution – not Hunter Biden. This guy is in a category of his own. You have the President of the United States ordering his Secretary of State to remind MBS “you owe me”. And then you have his son-in-law, weeks after leaving government, negotiating a more than $2 billion deal with the country for which he had official responsibility. There is no comparison, right? It’s a total red herring.

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