“Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.” – Nomi Prins, Moyers & Company
Starting with the basics here. Ivanka Trump is Donald Trump’s daughter. Donald Trump, you may remember, is considered the president of the U.S. Jared Kushner is Ivanka’s husband, making him Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Like Donald Trump, Kushner is a real-estate tycoon. Ivanka owns a company that produces clothing and such … in China. Kushner and Ivanka both serve in an advisory capacity to Donald Trump in his role as president.
Concerns of ‘conflict of interest’ have been voiced ever since Trump named Kushner as a senior White House advisor. Daniel Weiner, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice explains:
“It [real estate] is very, very, very different from many other ways that other people make money, partly because its a highly leveraged industry, which means that someone who is at the head of a real estate empire likely owes money to lots of different people. Because if someone is your creditor and then they turn around and they need something from the federal government, it might be hard to say no. And I’m not saying that this is the case with Mr. Kushner, but that is sort of one of the issues that comes up.”
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner failed to mention on his government disclosure forms both his multiple loans from various banks on properties that he co-owns and his co-ownership of a real estate finance tech startup that makes him business partners with billionaires like George Soros and Peter Thiel, as well as Goldman Sachs.
And as if that weren’t enough …
Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner, addressed a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey real estate project to secure what’s known as an investor visa. The EB-5 immigrant investor visa program, which allows foreign investors to invest in U.S. projects that create jobs and then apply to immigrate, has been used by both the Trump and Kushner family businesses. There were a series of slide shows and presentations, and the brochure carried the line: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”
Essentially, Kushner’s real estate business would be gaining investors, while Kushner would be using his influence within the federal government to provide immigration status. This after Trump has vowed to “crack down” on immigration. Conflict of interest? You decide.
And then there is Ivanka herself, who is a web of conflicts of interest. When Kellyanne Conway used an interview to promote Ivanka’s product line, sales soared, despite a number of retailers reportedly boycotting her products. And not coincidentally, Ivanka’s company won three new trademarks for its products from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her father’s Palm Beach club. Since Trump’s win in November, global sales of her merchandise have more or less gone through the roof.While Donald Trump is exempt from conflict of interest (with the exception of receiving gifts from foreign states without the consent of Congress under the Emoluments Clause, but that is a whole other post), Jared and Ivanka are not exempted. Naturally, the family being no stranger to lawsuits and legal entanglements, they have followed the recommendations of their attorneys to try to avoid conflict of interest charges.
Jared has resigned from more than 260 outside positions, including as CEO of the Kushner Companies and publisher of the New York Observer. He has divested or committed to divest approximately 80 holdings owned by himself, his spouse or their minor children. Ivanka has resigned from all her officer positions with her outside companies, including those with the Trump Organization. She has appointed a company president to manage her day-to-day business operations and turned over the businesses themselves to a trust managed by her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
Even so, there are still serious ethics concerns regarding the couple because (like Donald Trump himself) they have chosen not to divest all their assets or place them in a blind trust to be sold by the trustee. Jared has retained extensive real estate holdings primarily located in Chicago, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and throughout New Jersey. He has secured lines of credit (some of which are shared with his mother and father) through 10 banks, including Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Citigroup.
The potential conflicts are complex and far too numerous to list here, but suffice it to say that there is little doubt in my mind they are profiting from their White House positions. Even though they may have stepped down or aside from their business interests, they still retain ownership and are still making money from them.
So who oversees and monitors these two (and other administration officials) for ethics violations? The media whistleblowers seems to be the first line of attack, according to an article in NPR:
“Of course, the media, whistleblowers and the courts are key elements of the accountability ecosystem. A number of agencies or government bodies also have a hand in holding presidents and appointees accountable on ethics and conflicts of interest:
Congress – Investigative, Disciplinary
Department Of Justice – Investigative, Disciplinary
Office Of Government Ethics – Advisory
FBI – Investigative
Inspectors General – Investigative, Advisory
White House Counsel’s Office – Advisory, Investigative
Government Accountability Office – Investigative, Advisory”
There are so many potential ethical violations just for these two that it reminds me of the most intricate, involved spider’s web you can possibly imagine. I am no lawyer, but I already have questions that I believe need investigation, and I would like to see their tax returns for last year, and then in a year see their 2017 returns. But don’t hold your breath. The Trumps and the Kushners know their way around the world of legal entanglements. They came to Washington with purpose … and it was not benevolence or altruism. Conflict of interest? I believe so. Let the press dig their claws into this one … I am awaiting the results.