FACT A-1: A few months after the 2016 election, Charles Kushner, father of presidential son-in-law and key advisor Jared Kushner, asked Qatar’s minister of finance to help bail the Kushner family real estate company out of a disastrous $1.8 billion investment in 666 Fifth Avenue, New York. The minister declined.
FACT A-2: Weeks later, Jared Kushner, acting in his White House capacity as President Trump’s point person on Mideast policy, encouraged an economic blockade of Qatar by other Middle East nations that continues, despite the fact that there’s a key U.S. air base in the country. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (whatever’s happened to him?) had opposed the blockade, but of course he’s not family.
FACT B-1: Kushner, in his White House role, met there with officers of Citigroup and the private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
FACT B-2: Citigroup and Apollo later loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner real estate firm to help ease the 666 Fifth Avenue crisis.
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FACT A&B-3: Qatar’s sovereign investment fund has been a major investor in Apollo.
Those facts are not in dispute and they raise questions whether those events were wholly innocent coincidences, or was Kushner using his White House clout to bail out the family enterprise that he once ran and will once again run when his White House days end. Is the Qatari involvement in both sequences merely another coincidence?
The answer: It doesn’t much matter because one of life’s harsh rules is that the appearance of a conflict of interest can be as damaging as the reality of one. Even if Kushner’s motives were pure, his poor judgment, financial vulnerability, ethical indifference and nepotism-based power cannot appear to be pure. As a result, his actions have damaged every person, business and institution in the nation that he and his father-in-law are sworn to protect and defend.
Even in America’s most corrupt public moments — the post-Civil War Gilded Age and the Teapot Dome days — the White House was not a branch office for a president and his extended family’s financial empires.
True, most presidents (save for poor Ulysses Grant, an unsuspecting victim of the Gilded Age’s excesses) were financially better off after leaving office because they were, after all, ex-presidents and thus could write books, make lucrative speeches and hold board memberships. But the incumbent and his family are making political and policy decisions daily that affect their multiple business interests immediately and for the long term.
The insidious effects of both real or potential conflicts of interest are viral. Official corruption is the norm in much of the rest of the world; bribes, kickbacks, self-enrichment, nepotism and family dynasties are simply perks of office. So of course most governments we must deal with are willing to believe that we are no different.
The vulnerabilities Kushner’s status imposes on America are starkly illustrated by reports of intercepted conversations in which officials in at least four countries — China, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Mexico — talked about ways they could use Kushner’s financial problems and ethical blindness to their advantage and our disadvantage.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller likely is interested in Kushner’s activities, which could result in criminal charges. But even if Mueller comes up with nothing chargeable, Kushner’s violence against the American people and American norms and traditions of self-governing has already occurred, is continuing and is irreversible.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.