As former President Donald Trump was orchestrating what a bipartisan House committee has recently described as a multi-front conspiracy to steal a fair election and obstruct the legitimate transfer of presidential power for the first time in American history, that’s how top Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner characterized threats from the White House counselor to resign in protest.
“Like I said, my interest at that time was on trying to get as many pardons done as possible,” Kushner testified to a question from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), co-chair of the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. “And I know that [White House counselor Pat Cipollone] and the team were always saying, ‘We are going to resign, we are not going to be there if this happened, if that happens.’ So I kind of took it up to be just whining, to be honest with you.”
As is so frequently the case with former President Donald Trump and his chief enablers, the profound cynicism and corruption that permeated their White House often slips out in the most banal remarks. Sooner or later they inevitably blurt the quiet part out loud.
Never mind that an attempted coup was underway by Trump and his team — Rudy ‘Four Seasons Total Landscaping’ Giuliani, Sydney ‘Release the Kraken’ Powell, Mike ‘Declare Martial Law’ Flynn, among others. Kushner didn’t want to be bothered by a bunch of whining about it from White House lawyers. He had presidential pardons to see to, some reportedly requested by Republican lawmakers and others involved in the plot.
Kushner was equally indifferent to the pleas of Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff. Short foresaw the dangerous confrontation brewing over Mike Pence’s refusal to play along with Trump and the coup plotters. Pence’s principled stubbornness culminated in the mob of insurrectionists storming the Capitol at Trump’s behest and chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as a gallows was erected on the most hallowed ground in our democracy. Trump’s reaction while watching the violent mayhem on television, according to the Jan. 6 committee investigation: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” and Mike Pence “deserves it.”
Yet when Short called him shortly before Jan. 6, 2021, trying to enlist Kushner’s help in defusing the brewing confrontation between the two most powerful government officials in the land, Trump’s son-in-law was again dismissive. Pence is a “big boy,” Kushner reportedly replied in brushing off Short, “I’m too busy working on Middle East peace right now.”
In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Kushner was indeed purposely checked out and far from the scene of the impending crime. Instead, he was traveling in the Middle East to broker the end of a feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, part of his extensive one-man Mid-East diplomacy. Kushner will soon publish a book about his Middle East “peace making” and the resultant Abraham Accords, under which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognized Israel and normalized diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
Dig deeper into even those useful efforts, however, and you will catch the familiar whiff of something foul, an aroma of corruption with strong hints of amorality and self-enrichment. A similar odor once clung to Trump University and the Trump Charity, just as it permeates Trump’s reportedly fictitious “Official Election Defense Fund” that has raised $250 million on the “Stop the Steal” lie that has radicalized millions of Americans. Some of those “election defense” funds reportedly ended up in the Trump Hotel Collection.
Certainly, Kushner brought an easy familiarity to his last-ditch diplomacy with the leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Bloomberg News has reported on the Kushner family’s earlier efforts to raise money in Qatar, and in 2017 Jared’s father Charles Kushner reportedly met with Qatar’s finance minister.
The next year, with a staggering $1.2 billion mortgage coming due on a Kushner-owned Manhattan skyscraper (with the unfortunate address: 666 5th Avenue), a white knight in the form of Canadian developer Brookfield Asset Management Inc. came to the rescue with a very sweet bailout deal. Turns out the second largest investor in Brookfield is the Qatar Investment Authority, a massive sovereign wealth fund controlled by the Qatari government. Though Doha claimed to know nothing about the Brookfield bailout deal, the appearance of such a massive potential conflict of interest involving the United States’ top Middle East envoy was enough to make even rich Arab royals blush. The Qataris announced a “strategy revamp” in their investments to avoid future such “misunderstandings.”
And then there is Jared Kushner’s unusual bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the renegade royal who has jailed women’s rights activists, heads a regime that executes homosexuals, and who the CIA fingered for ordering the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Kushner was able to look past all that, of course, helping Prince Mohammed weather the diplomatic backlash and complete a multi-billion U.S. arms deal despite congressional opposition.
Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) are so close that they reportedly communicate with each other outside formal government channels using the encrypted text messaging platform WhatsApp.
Nothing to see there, move right along.
Yet for the ever transactional Trump clan, the quid follows the pro quo like night follows day. Only months after the end of his White House tenure, Kushner’s fledgling private equity firm Affinity Partners received a $2 billion investment from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which even in the Washington swamp amounts to real money. This despite the fact that Kushner has scant investment experience and an expert panel that advises the Saudi wealth fund raised red flags that Affinity Partners was “unsatisfactory in all aspects.” The panel was overruled by the Saudi wealth fund’s board, where the first among non-equal board members is — you guessed it — Mohammed bin Salman.
A House committee is now investigating the remote possibility that Jared Kushner might have used his position as the United States’ chief Middle East envoy to secure the $2 billion investment, and they are likely to subpoena his formal communications with the Saudi leadership. Only Kushner reportedly bypassed formal government channels in his encrypted WhatApp chats with MBS. Never mind, Kushner has offered assurances that he abided by all legal and ethical guidelines while in public service.
As an interesting coda to the Saudi-Trump-Kushner connection, the Saudi wealth fund has now also launched the new LIV Golf Invitational Series tour that is successfully tearing apart the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and corrupting professional golf competition with irresistible oodles of appearance money, all in order for the Saudis to “sports wash” their dismal human rights record. After Trump’s role in the disgraceful Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, you may remember that the PGA pulled its championship from the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Among the eight venues for the LIV Series inaugural tour are – wait for it – Trump’s Bedminster and Doral golf courses.
Nothing to see here. Feel free to play on through.
James Kitfield is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress.
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