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Ron Wyden Is Investigating Saudi Support for Jared Kushner’s Private Equity Firm

“It appears to be a payoff as much as a potential investment,” said a former chief ethics counsel for the Treasury.

Jared Kushner, former senior adviser to President Donald Trump, participates in a discussion hosted by the America First Policy Institute and The Abraham Accords Peace Institute, in Washington, D.C., on September 12, 2022.

Based on his prior experience and demonstrated abilities, Jared Kushner never should have landed a job in the White House. Before joining the Trump administration, Kushner was best known as his father’s son — a real estate mogul and disbarred attorney who gifted his child control over the family’s portfolio after being convicted of multiple felonies — whose greatest accomplishment was purchasing a New York City skyscraper for $1.8 billion just months before the housing market crashed, slashing the property’s value in half.

To be fair, Kushner made the best of his time in public service and appears to have turned it all around. Although he did not achieve peace in Israel and Palestine, Kushner was able to establish strategically important friendships with future benefactors in the Persian Gulf, a region he visited no fewer than 10 times on the taxpayer’s dime. A day before the January 6 insurrection, he was in Saudi Arabia for an event marking the restoration of relations between the kingdom and its rival, Qatar.

Out of office two weeks later, Kushner started up an investment firm, Affinity Partners, that quickly attracted big-time investors from the Middle East, despite the 43-year-old owner’s lack of experience running such an operation and a Google-able record of botching his only major investment decision.

As The New York Times reported in April, Kushner’s investment fund, valued at $3 billion, “is financed almost entirely from overseas investors with whom he worked when he served as a senior adviser in the Trump White House.”

Some two-thirds of that money has come from Saudi Arabia’s state-run Public Investment Fund, whose own advisers deemed Kushner’s fund “unsatisfactory in all aspects” only to be overruled by a board that includes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man who ordered the killing of U.S.-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi when Trump was in office and who Kushner today describes as a “visionary leader.” The other third? Much of it reportedly comes from other sovereign wealth funds run by the likes of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

That arrangement — Kushner receiving billions of dollars from friends he made as a government employee — has attracted scrutiny from Democrats and watchdog groups, who suspect that Charles Kushner’s son (turned Ivanka Trump’s husband) might be doing so well for reasons that are not entirely above board.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., demanded that Kushner and company answer questions about their relations with foreign powers and suggested that what he knows so far points to their investments being part of an influence operation.

“Mr. Kushner’s limited track record as an investor, including his nonexistent experience in private equity or hedge funds, raise questions regarding the investment strategy behind the seeding investments and lucrative compensation that Affinity received from the Saudi PIF and other sovereign wealth funds,” Wyden wrote in the letter, addressed to Affinity Partners’ chief financial officer, Lauren Key. In addition to the investments themselves, Kushner’s firm charges a 2% fee to manage the states’ assets, generating at least $80 million from the Saudis alone.

It all adds up to “an appearance that Affinity’s investors are motivated not by commercial interests of seeking a return on investment,” Wyden wrote, “but rather by strategic considerations of foreign nationals seeking to funnel money to U.S. individuals with personal connections to former President Trump.”

Since being awarded billions by governments he worked with — Kushner arranged it so Trump’s first state visit was to Saudi Arabia — the former president’s son-in-law has used at least some of the money to pursue projects that Trump himself was interested in. Earlier this year, Kushner scored a major real estate deal in Belgrade, Serbia, under which Affinity Partners will have the exclusive rights to build a luxury compound on the site of a former army headquarters that was bombed by NATO in 1999. Trump had wanted to build a hotel on the same site, where Kushner has agreed to finance a memorial on behalf of the pro-Russia Serbian government that will mark the NATO campaign, which came as Belgrade’s forces were committing war crimes in neighboring Kosovo.

Virginia Canter, former chief ethics counsel for the Treasury Department and now an attorney with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said an investigation of Kushner is not just “long overdue” but “vital for our national security.”

“It’s pretty apparent that he made and was involved in decisions that were unusually favorable to the Saudis and then he turned around, within weeks of leaving the White House, and was engaging in negotiations with them to obtain a $2 billion investment,” Canter told Salon. “It just raises all kinds of national security concerns for a former government official at that level – a former White House official — who never qualified, legitimately, for a security clearance.”

Even before he left office, there were concerns about Kushner’s ties to sketchy interests. He was indeed denied a security clearance, The New York Times reported, after officials “raised questions about this and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors”; he only obtained one after his father-in-law intervened. While in government, and following the murder of Khashoggi inside of Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy, Kushner, by then on a first-name basis with the Saudi leader who ordered the killing, “became the prince’s most important defender in side the White House,” per the Times.

“Every action he took seemed driven by what was going to come after he left office,” Canter said, noting that Kushner’s Trump-ordered security clearance granted him access to valuable, top-secret information. While he’s not the first former government official who has sought to cash in, Kushner is one of the few to completely disregard the traditional cooling off period (the other: former Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose investment firm is also backed by Riyadh).

“It’s one of the most egregious situations I’ve ever seen in decades of working in the federal government as an ethics official,” Canter said. “It appears to be a payoff as much as a potential investment,” she said, and also something of a purchase: buying Trump’s continued support for the Saudi government, which has also paid the former president millions of dollars to host its Liv Golf events. By enriching Kushner, and consequently Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, the Saudis have increased the potential cost, personally, for ever breaking with them politically.

“That,” Canter said, “may be a way of keeping Trump, in or out of office, on the Saudi side.”

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