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Democrats ramp up investigation of Kushner family business dealings

Democrats on a pair of congressional committees have launched an aggressive new effort to obtain information about whether Jared Kushner’s actions on U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf region as a senior White House adviser were influenced by the bailout of a property owned by his family business.

Citing previously undisclosed emails and other documents related to former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law, the committees on Monday night sent letters to the State and Defense departments requesting material that they say could shed new light on 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, focus on efforts by Kushner and his father, Charles Kushner, to bail out a troubled 41-story Fifth Avenue office building in New York City. The Kushner company in 2018 made a deal with a Canadian company, Brookfield Asset Management, which invested $1.2 billion for a 99-year lease. As a result, the Kushner family company avoided defaulting on a loan that was due the following year.

Democrats have long raised questions about the deal because the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, had a stake in one of Brookfield’s investment arms.

Brookfield said when it was negotiating its deal in 2018 that “no Qatar-linked entity has any involvement in or even knowledge of this potential transaction.” But Democrats have continued probing whether any Qatari money went into the project.

Now, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), in their roles as chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and House Oversight Committee, have broadened that inquiry, co-authoring letters to the State and Defense departments. They wrote that they are seeking an array of documents addressing their concerns that Jared Kushner’s role in Middle East policy could have played a role in the bailout.

Neither Jared Kushner, who now runs a private-equity company, nor Charles Kushner, who serves as chairman of the Kushner real estate company, responded to requests for comment.

The saga of the Fifth Avenue property has long been one of the darkest chapters in Jared Kushner’s career.

After his father went to prison for federal tax evasion and other charges after being convicted in 2005, Kushner — who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump — remade the family real estate business. He sold many of the company’s New Jersey apartments and paid $1.8 billion for the Fifth Avenue property, the most ever paid in the United States for an office building at that time. While Kushner called it a “great acquisition,” the purchase came just before the 2007 real estate crash, undercutting the value of the property and putting the family business at risk.

As Kushner recounted in “Breaking History,” his recent memoir: “There was no way I was going to let the investment fail. I had very little leverage, so I was willing to talk to anybody.” He called it the biggest challenge of his career.

By 2016, Kushner was simultaneously helping to run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and seeking an investor to take over the property. A previously undisclosed email obtained by the committees says that Kushner talked with top Brookfield officials about the Fifth Avenue property on April 15, 2016. The property at the time was known as 666 Fifth Ave. and is now known as 660 Fifth Ave.

Five days later, in an email with the subject line “re 666,” Brookfield’s then-chairman, Ric Clark, wrote: “Jared — thanks for coming down last Friday. We are excited about your project.” Clark ended the email writing, “Congratulations on yesterday’s election,” apparently a reference to Trump’s victory in the New York Republican primary, which helped him secure the nomination. Clark did not respond to a request for comment.

In December 2016, as Kushner worked on Trump’s transition team, he met with representatives of a Chinese insurance firm regarding potentially investing in the property, the New York Times reported. Kushner also met with a Russian banker but told Congress that family business was not discussed, although the bank has said they talked about “promising business lines and sectors.”

Then, as Kushner began his White House role, he divested himself of his interest in the Fifth Avenue property and cut ties with the family company, where his father worked. At the same time, he retained real estate assets valued between $132 million and $407 million, The Post has reported.

As Kushner worked on Middle East policy, his father in April 2017 held a meeting with Qatar’s finance minister at which the Fifth Avenue property was discussed. Charles Kushner later told The Post that even if the Qataris had offered to wire funds on the spot, he would have turned them down to avoid questions about a conflict of interest with his son.

Jared Kushner played a significant role in policy affecting Qatar. He had helped persuade Trump to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia during a May 2017 visit to the Arab nation. A month later, Saudi Arabia joined several countries in breaking relationships with Qatar and imposing a blockade, accusing Qatar of financing terrorism. Kushner wrote in his memoir that, contrary to accusations by some in the administration, he was not to blame for the Saudi action against Qatar and “tried to convince them to delay the decision.” He then tried to work to lift the blockade against Qatar, he wrote.

With questions swirling about whether Kushner used his influence to get investors to bail out the Fifth Avenue building, Charles Kushner in January 2018 gave his first interview about the matter, telling The Post that he had purposefully avoided doing business with sovereign investment funds or similar entities, to avoid a conflict of interest with his son’s White House job.

A month after that interview, according to emails obtained by the committees, Charles Kushner talked with Clark, the Brookfield chairman, about investing in the Fifth Avenue property. An associate of Charles Kushner then emailed Clark with a summary of a proposed deal.

Two months later, Qatar’s leader visited the White House and Trump officials called for an end to the blockade. In their letter, the committees said the Trump administration’s support for the blockade “evaporated shortly after Charles Kushner’s discussion with Brookfield,” but they did not supply evidence that the two events are linked.

The following month, Brookfield and the Kushner real estate company confirmed that they were negotiating a deal on the Fifth Avenue building. Both parties said that at the time that there was no Qatari involvement in the investment, which was finalized later in 2018. Jared Kushner did not mention Brookfield in his memoir.

In the waning days of the Trump administration, Charles Kushner — who had been convicted of filing false tax returns and other charges — was pardoned by Trump and Jared Kushner traveled to the Persian Gulf region to finalize a deal to end the blockade of Qatar. The day after the Trump administration ended, Kushner created a private equity firm, for which he obtained a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The fund is headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has said ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist.

In recent days, Kushner traveled to Qatar, where he was photographed at the World Cup with some of that nation’s leaders.

Democrats, meanwhile, have repeatedly sought information about the Fifth Avenue property bailout from Brookfield and Kushner.

On Dec. 9, 2020, Wyden co-authored a letter to Brookfield saying that despite Brookfield’s assurance that no Qatari money was involved in the deal, “it appears that is exactly what happened,” and requested documentation from the company about it. Then, on Oct. 13, 2022, Wyden sent another letter to Brookfield, accusing the company of “stonewalling on whether it intentionally misled the public” about the use of Qatar-linked funds to bail out the Kushner family property. Wyden alleged that Brookfield’s initial assurance that no Qatar-linked entities were involved “turned out to be false.”

Asked about Wyden’s allegations by The Post, Brookfield issued a statement that did not directly address the question of Qatar’s role: “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 via email that it would not comment. Qatari officials have previously said they did not learn about the Brookfield investment in the Kushner property until it was reported in the media. Subsequently, Reuters reported in 2019 that the Qatar Investment Authority would avoid putting its money in investment funds that it does not control.

The committees’ letter this week marks the most aggressive request yet for new information. The committees are seeking all relevant correspondence related to the Kushner family company, Brookfield, the Qatari fund, the blockade and other matters.

In addition, the committees said, they are requesting any correspondence that refers to “Kushner seeking to influence, interfere with, or supersede the normal operations and responsibilities” of the State and Defense departments.

Jonathan O’Connell and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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