Jared Kushner To Step Down As Kushner CEO For Key Trump White House Position
Ethan Rothstein, Forbes, Jan 9 2017
Jared Kushner plans to step down from his role at Kushner Cos, the firm he took over from his father, as he prepares to be one of the key figures in Donald Trump’s White House. Kushner has been the president-elect’s point man on foreign policy, even acting as the go-between for the outgoing administration to Trump on matters around the globe, the NYT reports. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, bought a house in Washington, DC, close to the Obamas’ post-presidency home. The NYT also reported that Kushner has been taking meetings with Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese giant that paid a record price for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and has been on a major global buying spree, about selling some Kushner assets, including 666 Fifth Ave, the most high-profile property in the company’s expansive portfolio. Trump’s transition team had previously requested security clearance for Kushner, and Trump has publicly identified Kushner as someone who would be heavily involved in Middle East diplomacy. Despite Kushner’s personal political pivot, his company remains active, most recently as part of a partnership that paid $345M for a development site in Dumbo, Brooklyn. [NYT]
Pindo Decline to Banana Republic Accelerates
Jon Schwarz, Intercept, Jan 9 2017
Donald Trump’s interview to name his son-in-law Jared Kushner to a senior White House post violates ethical standards and the smell test. A 1967 anti-nepotism law states that a government official can’t hire relatives “in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control.” His lawyers are said to be preparing to argue that the White House is somehow not an “agency” and so Trump can do as he wishes, but they are probably wrong and without a change to the law the appointment of Kushner would likely lead to litigation aimed at forcing him out. Kushner will bring with him glaring conflicts of interest almost as labyrinthine as Trump’s. Kushner could of course sell all his assets and put the proceeds in a blind trust, but as with Trump the law does not require it and Kushner appears to have no intention of doing so. As the NYT recently reported, throughout the presidential campaign Kushner was negotiating a deal with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial conglomerate. After Trump’s victory, Kushner joined the company’s Chinese executives for a celebratory meal featuring $2,100 bottles of wine. Yet when the Chinese government contacted the Obama White House to express its unhappiness about Trump’s post-election call to the president of Taiwan, the administration didn’t pass the news along to Trump’s security team but to Kushner. According to the NYT, Kushner also is developing luxury apartments with unnamed Chinese investors and has received loans from an Israeli bank being investigated by the Justice Dept for helping rich Pindosis evade taxes. If Kushner joins the Trump administration, he will have to file executive branch financial disclosure forms that will reveal more about his holdings. He also will be required to recuse himself from decisions that would have a “direct and predictable effect” on his finances. In addition, Kushner’s lawyer has said that he will divest himself of “substantial assets,” which apparently will include his stake in the building at 666 5th Avenue, his company’s flagship and the subject of the deal with Anbang. But this may largely be cosmetic since the company’s other owners are members of Kushner’s family and the company itself is not going to sell its interest.
All this matters because Kushner may be the single most important influence on Trump. Before the election the NYT called Kushner Trump’s “de facto campaign manager,” and a Trump adviser referred to him as “the final decision-maker” in Trump’s inner circle, despite the fact that Kushner had no official title. Kushner appears to have the power to persuade Trump to reverse significant decisions. After Trump asked Chris Christie to be his running mate, Kushner encouraged him to rescind the offer and choose Mike Pence instead. Then when Trump surprised the world by winning, Kushner prevailed upon him to fire Christie from his position running the transition and again replace him with Pence. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Kushner seems, like his father-in-law, born to real estate wealth and not particularly talented at anything, but with a family taste for power and personal vengeance. Kushner’s successful developer father, Charlie Kushner, gave $2.5m to Harvard in 1998, when Jared was looking at colleges. Shortly afterward, Harvard admitted him, even though, as an official at Kushner’s high school put it:
His GPA did not warrant it. His SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen.
After Harvard, Kushner was admitted to the law school at New York University. Coincidentally, his father had recently given NYU $3m and rented the school office space at below-market rates. Kushner’s father also became a major funder of area politicians, giving more than $1.4m to New Jersey Democrats like Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg and Chuck Schumer. Hillary Clinton came to the Kushner house for dinner after she won her New York Senate seat in 2000. But in 2005, Charlie Kushner pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations. The witness tampering involved his hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and secretly photograph them having sex. The prosecutor in the case? Chris Christie. The fact that Kushner has now whacked Christie twice suggests he has no qualms about using power to settle family grudges. With his father in jail, Jared Kushner took over the family’s real estate empire. In 2007, soon after Charlie Kushner got out of jail, the family bought 666 5th Avenue for $1.3b, mostly borrowed. By 2011, Kushner also owned the New York Observer. Just like Trump, Kushner has been a horrendous landlord, harassing rent-stabilized tenants so he could force them out and jack up the rent on their apartments. Kushner has also struck up a friendship with Rupert Murdoch, who with his then-wife Wendi are apparently responsible for Kushner’s marrying Ivanka, getting them back together after they’d dated for several years and then broken up. When Trump played footsie with anti-Semites on Twitter, Kushner defended him. One of his employees at the Observer wrote:
Please do not condescend to me and pretend you don’t understand the imagery of a six-sided star when juxtaposed with money and accusations of financial dishonesty. I’m asking you, not as a ‘gotcha’ journalist or as a liberal but as a human being: how do you allow this?
Trump names son-in-law to White House post
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Jan 10 2017
In an action that demonstrates both the arrogance of the incoming Trump administration and its oligarchic character, the real estate billionaire has named his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to the powerful position of senior White House adviser. The selection of Kushner is arguably illegal, violating a 1967 anti-nepotism law. The law forbids the president from appointing relatives to agencies he supervises or controls, and son-in-law is explicitly enumerated as one of those forbidden. Spox for Trump and Kushner claim the anti-nepotism law does not apply to the White House, arguing that it is not an “agency” as defined in the law. Kushner’s attorney, former Clinton administration deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, said Trump would seek an advisory opinion from the DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel on the legality of the appointment. Trump can replace the members of OLC until they give him the answer he requires. It is nonetheless significant that in Trump’s case, the rigged legal finding will concern his own family, not government policy. This demonstrates the inbred and personalist character of the incoming government, which has more the character of a Mafia than an administration. Added to this is the fact that Kushner is the seventh billionaire to take a top position in the Trump administration, joining Trump himself, cabinet nominees Wilbur Ross (Commerce), Betsy DeVos (Education) and Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), as well as Deputy Commerce Secretary Todd Ricketts and regulatory adviser Carl Icahn. Two other nominees, Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil for Sec State and Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs for head of the National Economic Council, each have fortunes approaching $500m.
Jared, who turns 36 today, is the scion of a super-rich family with vast holdings in NYC/NJ, although it was aligned politically with the Democrat Party until Jared’s marriage to Ivanka Trump in 2009. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, has a close relationship with the Kushners. According to press accounts, Jared was admitted to Harvard and to NYU Law School despite a mediocre academic record after his father Charlie gave a large donation to each institution. When Charlie went to prison in 2005 after being convicted for illegal campaign contributions to Democrats and obstruction of justice, Jared took over the leadership of the family real-estate firm. Later, as a 2016 campaign adviser, Jared blocked the selection of Chris Christie as Trump’s running mate in favor of Mike Pence. Christie was the federal prosecutor who sent Jared’s father Charlie to prison. Jared also reportedly played a key role in replacing Christie with Pence as the leader of Trump’s transition team. According to one Trump aide, Jared will be “first among equals” among the four top aides in the Trump White House, alongside chief of staff Reince Priebus, political adviser Stephen Bannon (former head of Breitbart News) and communications adviser Kellyanne Conway. There is no parallel in modern history for such an overt role for a close family member.
The naming of Kushner comes on the eve of the opening of Senate hearings on Trump’s cabinet nominees. Senator Jeff Sessions, nominated for attorney general, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, on Tuesday. Gen (retd) Kelly appears before the Senate Homeland Security Committee as the nominee for Sec DHS. Seven other nominees face Senate hearings during the week, including Tillerson, DeVos, Ross, Mike Pompeo as DCI, fast-food mogul Andy Puzder as Sec Labor, Ben Carson as Sec HUD. Elaine Chao (wife of Mitch McConnell and herself Sec Labor in the Bush 43 administration) as Sec Transportation. The same lack of scruples about ethical appearances demonstrated so flagrantly in the Kushner appointment prevails in the Senate confirmation process. Many of the cabinet nominees have not yet filed paperwork with the Office of Government Ethics, which conducts routine screening for Congress of White House nominees. McConnell dismissed objections about the violation of ethics rules, calling them “little procedural complaints” that were the by-products of the Democrats losing the 2016 election. He said that all the necessary forms would be completed before a final Senate vote to confirm the nominations. At the same time, he predicted that all the nominees would be confirmed. This political judgment is undoubtedly correct, since Senate Democrats intend to do nothing to stop any of the nominees. They are making the occasional protest over particularly noxious nominations, as in the case of billionaire Betsy DeVos, a long-time enemy of public education and advocate of charter schools, to head the Dept of Education, but little more. Liberal groups have adopted the same policy, as evidenced by the NAACP, which staged a symbolic sit-in at an office of Senator Sessions in Mobile, Alabama at which six NAACP officials were arrested, booked and released.
Sessions has a vicious right-wing record, going back to his days as a federal prosecutor in the early 1980s, when he charged civil rights workers with “vote fraud” for helping elderly Black Pindostanis to vote. He is an implacable supporter of capital punishment, having backed the execution of the mentally retarded and the obviously insane while Alabama state attorney general in the 1990s. He is a longtime advocate of persecuting undocumented workers and rallied to Trump early in the campaign on the basis of a shared anti-immigrant policy. The only sharp questioning will take place Wednesday when Rex Tillerson, the nominee for Sec State, appears before the Foreign Relations Committee. He will be grilled by Congress critturs of both sexes over Trump’s refusal to condemn alleged Russian hacking of the Democrats during the 2016 campaign, and his own generally more conciliatory statements about Pres Putin. The main Democrat response to Trump’s selection of a cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and ultra-right ideologues will be an attempt to attack them from the right, from the standpoint of an even more extreme policy of militarism. McConnell is pressing for confirmation by Jan 20, the first day of Trump’s presidency, of all Trump’s choices for national security posts, including Kelly for Sect DHS, Pompeo for DCI and Mattis for Sec Def. The Mattis nomination is the only one where the Democrats enjoy an outright veto, since the installation of a recently retired general to head the Pentagon requires a legislative waiver which can pass only with 60 out of 100 votes in the Senate. The Republicans have 52 seats. Jack Reed, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of a waiver for Mattis:
I admire him immensely, but I think we have to give it a full review.
Only one Democrat senator, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, has publicly declared she will oppose the waiver. Most Democrats are expected to back Mattis, viewing him as more favorable to the Obama/ Hillary Clinton line in foreign policy, which views Russia as
the most pressing adversary of Pindostan very much the largest bogey in its nostril, particularly in the Middle East.