Is Trump About to Exile Jared Kushner From the White House?
There comes a time in the life of every young princeling when the robes fall away and his jammies are revealed. Such a time came for our White House princeling in chief recently when he was stripped of his Top Secret security clearance and downgraded to a Secret clearance. We are speaking here, naturally, of Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law, husband of Ivanka, carrier on his broad back of the Great White House Portfolio charging him with solving peace in the Middle East, ending the opioid crisis, reforming the criminal justice system, reforming the veterans agencies, taking charge of diplomacy with Mexico and China, and reinventing the entire federal government so it works more like a business.
Solving all these problems will of course present something of a problem for our princeling, given the fact that pretty much everyone he meets with in carrying out all of those august tasks at the White House has at least a Top Secret clearance, and so will not be able to discuss with the Great Coordinator and Problem Solver any information above his security clearance grade, which as it currently stands is beneath that of a lowly second lieutenant. It was reported that even the White House calligrapher has a Top Secret clearance, so Prince Jared will no doubt be barred from discussing the place cards for any upcoming state dinners. Given the way the federal government works, pretty much everything in the princeling’s portfolio is classified Top Secret or above, save perhaps getting Mexico to pay for the wall, which has always been right out there in public and not a secret at all. Since the Mexican government has said there is no way it will pay for the wall, our princeling can scratch that particular problem off his docket anyway.
But in all his peregrinations about the White House, Prince Jared has never really been about dealing with his daunting portfolio, has he? When was the last time you read anything about our princeling traveling out of Washington to visit a drug treatment facility in Maine or West Virginia or Indiana, where opioids are hollowing out one small town after another? Or even taking a car over to the Washington V.A. hospital, only a few miles from the White House, where an inspector general reported problems with sterilization and surgical equipment shortfalls that caused operations to be terminated after patients were already under anesthesia?
No, we’ve discovered lately that what has been on Prince Jared’s mind during his time in the White House has been the problem of his company back in New York. You’ve heard about the Kushner family business problems, haven’t you? Most of them derive from a big deal our princeling made when he got the Kushner Companies to buy the office building at 666 Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion, which at the time was twice as much per square foot as had ever been paid for a piece of Manhattan real estate in history.
It turned out that young Jared must have been studying closely his father-in-law’s business practices, because he bought the troubled building in 2007 at the very top of the market, the year before the real estate market crashed, causing banks to fail and sending international financial institutions into a tailspin and resulting in the great recession of 2008. It was a deal reminiscent of Donald Trump’s purchase of the Plaza Hotel in 1988 for $407 million. The hotel never covered its operating costs in room rentals, and seven years later the Plaza was sold out of bankruptcy for $325 million, not a dime of which ended up going to Trump. Today, our princeling and his Kushner Companies hold a $1.4 billion mortgage on 666 Fifth Avenue that comes due next year. They’re sitting on that kind of debt on a 41-story undistinguished midtown office building at a time when Manhattan is sprouting 1,000-foot-plus towers like weeds. JPMorganChase recently announced plans to tear down its 52-story headquarters building on Park Avenue and erect a 70-story monster in its place.
Two weeks ago, it was revealed that Prince Jared had lost no time turning his office in the West Wing into a waiting room for mortgage bankers. In the spring of 2017, he met with Michael L. Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup, to discuss “financial and trade policy,” according to the New York Times. In March, less than two months after Trump took office, Citigroup loaned the Kushner Companies and one of its partners $325 million to finance buildings in Brooklyn. Prince Jared also sat down several times in his West Wing office with Joshua Harris, a billionaire investor and founder of Apollo Global Management. Harris was said to be advising the White House on “infrastructure issues.” While no infrastructure proposals have been forthcoming from the White House, Apollo Global Management decided last November to loan the Kushner Companies $184 million on a skyscraper in Chicago. Presto! You get an office in the West Wing, and suddenly your moribund real estate company back in New York qualifies for more than a half a billion dollars in loans! What a country, huh?
Things really heated up Monday when NBC reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has begun looking into “Kushner’s attempts to secure financing for his family’s real estate ventures.” Mueller’s investigators have been questioning witnesses about Kushner’s talks with representatives of Russia, Qatar, Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates.
Last week it was revealed that the government of Qatar is sitting on a passel of information about the meeting Prince Jared had in Trump Tower in December of 2016 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, along with his pals Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. Bringing the UAE's prince together with the prince of Fifth Avenue was George Nader, a secretive “financial adviser” to the UAE who has been dragged before a grand jury by Mueller to spill everything he knows about the Trump Tower meeting, as well as the meeting he arranged in the Seychelles in January 2017 between Crown Prince Zayed, a Russian banker friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who was representing the Trump transition team at the time.
Lurking always in the background has been the shadow cast by 666 Fifth Avenue. The Qataris are said to be unhappy because soon after they rejected an entreaty to refinance the Kushner Companies' mortgage on that building last June, Prince Jared helped convince his father-in-law to back Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a blockade of Qatar, allegedly for its support of terrorism. The United States has a military base with 10,000 soldiers and sailors in the allegedly pro-terrorist nation of Qatar, making the decision to back the blockade look questionable at best.
But then, that was back in the days when our princeling was reading the PDB -- the President’s Daily Brief, the intelligence report from the director of national intelligence and the CIA that the president himself is said never to have cast his gaze upon. Those days of super-ultra-top-secret documents and briefings are behind him now.
At least Prince Jared can concentrate on the one task in his portfolio that doesn’t demand access to top-secret information: reinventing the federal government so that it functions more like a business. The question is, with the Kushner Companies staring bankruptcy in the face, which business will he use as a model?