January 20, 2018

THE FAMILY'S A TARGET RICH ENVIRONMENT FOR CORRUPTION:

Jared Kushner Is China's Trump Card (Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, Jan. 12th, 2018, The New Yorker)

As months passed, some members of the White House received their permanent security clearances, but Kushner continued to wait. For high-level appointees, the process is normally "expedited," a former senior U.S. official said. It can be completed in several months, unless "derogatory information" pops up during the review.

Kushner had an interim clearance that gave him access to intelligence. He was also added to a list of recipients of the President's Daily Brief, or P.D.B., a top-secret digest of the U.S. government's most closely held and compartmentalized intelligence reports. By the end of the Obama Administration, seven White House officials were authorized to receive the same version of the P.D.B. that appeared on the President's iPad. The Trump Administration expanded the number to as many as fourteen people, including Kushner. A former senior official said, of the growing P.D.B. distribution list, "It got out of control. Everybody thought it was cool. They wanted to be cool."

Some people in the office of the director of National Intelligence questioned the expansion, but officials who reported to Trump didn't want to risk irritating him by trying to exclude his son-in-law and other new additions. David Priess, a former C.I.A. officer who delivered the P.D.B. during the George W. Bush Administration and is the author of "The President's Book of Secrets," said that Kushner's situation was unprecedented: "Having studied the President's Daily Brief's six-decade history, I have not come across another case of a White House official being a designated recipient of the P.D.B., for that length of time, without having a full security clearance."

Among national-security specialists, Kushner's difficulty obtaining a permanent security clearance has become a subject of fascination. Was it his early failure to disclose foreign contacts? Or did it have something to do with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? As the Administration finished its first year, some clues to Kushner's security troubles have come into sharper focus, giving a new perspective on his encounters with China. [...]

During the transition, Kushner met with a range of foreign officials to discuss the incoming Administration. At the same time, as the head of his family's business, he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2007, the Kushner Companies had bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a forty-one-story office tower, for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. The deal turned out to be a potential disaster for Kushner. Demand for office space had fallen short, and he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building's finances.

On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China's Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu's possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.

In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business. On December 13th, at the recommendation of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank. [...]

By the spring of 2017, investigators in charge of evaluating whether to give Kushner a permanent security clearance had new information to consider. U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including Cui's reports to Beijing about his meetings in the United States.

According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner's business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner's views. The intelligence wasn't conclusive, according to those briefed on the matter. "I never saw any indication that it was successful," a former senior official said, of Chinese efforts to compromise Kushner. The Chinese could have mischaracterized their discussions with Kushner. But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner's close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time. "They're in it for the long haul," the former official said. [...]

In the months after Priestap briefed Kushner on the counterintelligence threat, Kushner and Ivanka Trump made some adjustments. In May, the Kushner Companies issued an apology after reporters observed Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared Kushner's sister, speaking about his White House position while promoting real estate to potential investors in China. In September, Kushner and Ivanka declined an invitation to visit China, amid criticism from some American scholars that they were ill-equipped to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the United States.

Other plans remained unchanged. In November, Kushner travelled to China as part of the President's delegation for a summit with Xi Jinping. In Beijing, Kushner had lunch at the home of Wendi Murdoch, an occasion that went unmentioned in briefings and public schedules. (A White House spokesman said that Kushner attended the lunch "in a personal capacity," after the President's official business was complete.) Kushner saw no reason to curtail their friendship. In the seven months since Kushner's meeting with Priestap, Wendi Murdoch had done nothing that raised his suspicions, according to a person close to Kushner. "Why do I have more of a risk of telling her state secrets than anyone else?" Kushner asked recently. "Either I'm qualified to handle state secrets or I'm not qualified to handle state secrets. I think I understand my responsibilities."

In December, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed a wider circle of officials, saying that "a member of the president's family" was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation, echoing earlier warnings. It was not clear if that family member was Kushner or someone else.

The President's children resist the argument that their undivested assets, their behavior, and their willingness to mix government service and personal profit present a target to adversaries and allies alike. The senior transition official believes that's a mistake. "They're going to slowly, over time, get what they want out of him, and it's not going to be obvious," the official said. "Sure, you'll take the meeting, but you're giving them a real investment opportunity that's 'good for them,' and 'everyone wins.' Meanwhile, they're just trying to get their teeth into him."

Posted by at January 20, 2018 9:38 AM

  

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