Special counsel in charge of the Russian investigation, Robert Mueller, is reportedly looking into whether presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner influenced White House policy in attempts to secure financing for his real estate business.
According to sources investigators are looking into discussions the top White House aide had with Qatari, Chinese, Russian and Emirati officials in order to use his position to advance personal business interests, and then attempted to influence American foreign policy accordingly.
Kushner’s family business, Kushner Companies is facing financial trouble as they struggle to shore up $1.4 billion in debt the company took on to purchase a premier office building in Midtown Manhattan, 666 Fifth Avenue. The debt is due in 2019 and so far, the company has been unable to strike a deal that would keep the building solvent.
A discussion that is of particular interest to Mueller’s team is a meeting that took place in Trump Tower during the presidential transition in December 2016 between former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani and Jared Kushner.
Al Thani had been in talks with Kushner Companies about investing in 666 Fifth Avenue, but ultimately decided against it last spring, stepping away from the deal. Weeks later, the White House supported an economic blockade against Qatar imposed by other mid-east nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Kushner has been intimately involved in crafting mid-east policy for the White House since the Trump administration came into office.
Qatari officials, in Washington last month, were reportedly prepared to hand evidence over they say shows the UAE and other Persian Gulf neighbors coordinated with Kushner to harm their country economically, to Mueller. The officials ultimately decided against it because they felt their meetings with other U.S. officials had been productive.
The Qatari embassy in Washington, D.C., has denied any contact between Qatari officials and Muller’s team. “Qatar has not been approached nor has it had any contact with the Special Counsel’s Office on any matters,” a spokesman said. “Qatar has also had no contact with the United States Government on any related investigations.”
The White House, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other nations allege that the blockade against Qatar is in retaliation for that government’s state sponsoring of terrorism.
Kushner also met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of VEB Bank, a Russian-state owned bank that many believe is an arm of the Russian government, during the transition in December 2016. VEB is currently under sanction by the U.S. government. Kushner has said he did not discuss those sanction or their possible alleviation with Gorka during the meeting. Gorka has said they did.
Meetings with Turkish and Emirati officials are also said to be under scrutiny. Mueller is said to be looking into a possible quid-pro-quo deal between Trump officials and Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is also the country’s energy minister that was proposed.
Kushner also met with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during the transition. The Crown Prince broke protocol for that meeting, not informing U.S. officials of his trip. The Obama administration learned of the meeting only after U.S. intelligence officials reported it to them.
Ongoing negotiations with Chinese investors about the building also fell through, as chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese property insurance giant, announced that it would not become an investor in the property. Al Thani’s investment was reportedly conditioned on splitting investment in the building with the Chinese. After they withdrew, so did Al Thani.
A spokesman for Kushner Companies said, “To be clear, we did not meet with anyone from the Qatari Government to solicit sovereign funds for any of our projects. To suggest otherwise, is inaccurate and false.” A spokesman for Kushner’s attorney also denied the reports saying, “time and time again, unnamed sources seeking only mischief have misled the media about what the special counsel is doing.”
Requests for comment from the Turkish, Emirati, Russian and Chinese Embassies were not immediately returned.
18 U.S.C. § 208 expressly prohibits any executive branch employee from “participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests,” the financial interests of close family members or of organizations they are closely associated with or is negotiating potential employment with.