Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 9 News List

How the Kushner family stands to gain from Trump’s actions

While previous first families’ relatives have caused uproars, none of them took jobs in the White House while benefiting from businesses with international partners

By Eric Lipton, Jesse Drucker and Javier C. Hernandez  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON, NEW YORK and BEIJING

It was the first major piece of legislation that US President Donald Trump signed into law, and buried on page 734 was one sentence that brought a potential benefit to the president’s extended family: renewal of a program offering permanent residence in the US to affluent foreigners investing money in real-estate projects.

Just hours after the appropriations measure was signed on Friday last week, the company that had until January been run by Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, was urging wealthy Chinese in Beijing to consider investing US$500,000 each in a pair of Jersey City, New Jersey, luxury apartment towers the family-owned Kushner Cos plans to build.

Kushner was even cited at a marketing presentation by his sister Nicole Meyer, who was on her way to China even before the bill was signed.

The project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” she told the prospective investors.

The sequence of events offers one of the most explicit examples to date of the peril of the Trump and Kushner families maintaining close ties to their business interests and creates an impression they stand to profit off Trump’s presence in the White House. It also illustrates the problems of the EB-5 visa program that prominent Republican and Democratic members of US Congress want changed.

“It is just one more dilemma that a family with vast commercial interest has when relatives are in the federal government, particularly the White House,” said Michael Cardozo, who served as a deputy White House counsel in the administration of former US president Jimmy Carter, which struggled with its own controversies related to the president’s brother, Billy Carter, and his work on behalf of a US company seeking to get into the oil industry in Libya. “The actions of relatives can come back and bite those serving those in the government.”

Bipartisan critics in Washington have said they want to revamp the visa program, because it is often abused.

It supports high-end luxury projects, like the Kushner family deal, instead of promoting job creation in the rural US or distressed urban areas, as it was intended.

It has also been criticized by federal regulators for insufficient safeguards against illicit money entering the US; in the case of one applicant, they found potential financial ties to a string of Chinese brothels.

There is no assertion that Kushner broke any conflict-of-interest rule; but the law does not prevent his relatives from trying to exploit those ties to benefit the family business.

Kushner’s portfolio includes a central role on China policy. That role has heightened the Kushner family name in a nation accounting for more than 80 percent of the EB-5 visas issued. Wealthy Chinese see the program as an easy way to legally move to the US.

In fact, Kushner Cos — when Kushner was still at the helm — had received US$50 million in EB-5 financing for a separate New Jersey project, a Trump-branded luxury high-rise tower in Jersey City that opened late last year.

On Monday, US Senator Dianne Feinstein called the visa program “a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House.”

Meanwhile, ethics watchdog group Democracy 21 called for Kushner to recuse himself from all policy dealing with China. The group had previously called for Kushner to make public a full list of his family firm’s overseas business partners and lenders, as well as a full divestiture of his business assets into a blind trust.

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