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Is Jared Kushner Breaking the Law with $400M Real Estate Deal with Firm Tied to Chinese Gov't?

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A company owned by President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will receive more than $400 million from a Chinese firm in a real estate deal that many experts are calling unusually favorable. The payout from the Anbang Insurance Group is part of a $4 billion deal at Kushner’s Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue. Bloomberg reports Anbang has links to the Chinese power structure and that past investments by the company in New York real estate have drawn federal review. Critics say the transaction could be a "sweetheart deal" meant to curry favor with President Trump. We speak with investigative journalist Justin Elliott of ProPublica, who has been closely examining Kushner’s possible conflicts of interest.

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AMY GOODMAN: A company owned by President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will receive more than $400 million from a Chinese firm, if the deal goes through, in a real estate deal that many experts are calling unusually favorable. The payout from the Anbang Insurance Group is part of a $4 billion deal at Kushner’s Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue. Bloomberg reports Anbang has links to the Chinese power structure and that past investments by the company in New York real estate have drawn federal review. Lawrence Noble of the Campaign Legal Center said of the deal, quote, "At the very least, this raises serious questions about the appearance of a conflict that arises from the possibility that the Kushners are getting a sweetheart deal. A classic way you influence people is by financially helping their family," he wrote.

We’re joined right now by investigative journalist Justin Elliott of ProPublica, who has been closely examining Kushner’s possible conflicts of interest. His recent pieces include "White House Power Player Jared Kushner Is Keeping Parts of His Real-Estate Empire."

So, Justin, talk about the significance of this revelation.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. So, there’s a couple different issues here. You know, we’ve heard a lot about the fact that Donald Trump is not divesting from his business empire, but Jared Kushner, who is now, you know, perhaps his—the single most influential aide—when you watch Trump on TV, Jared Kushner is almost always by his side. He’s involved in seemingly everything.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s, of course, married to Ivanka Trump.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, so Donald Trump’s son-in-law. He comes—he was previously CEO of Kushner Companies, his family company, that, you know, is a multibillion-dollar company, owns tons of real estate. He has stakes in other kinds of businesses. And typically, government officials divest from their businesses, sell them off so they don’t have conflicts of interest. But in the case of Kushner, he’s actually keeping parts of his family real estate empire. And the White House hasn’t told us yet what he’s keeping and what he’s—what he’s given away. In the case when he—in the cases where he has divested businesses, he, according to his lawyers, has sold or transferred them to his mother and brother. So that puts him in the clear in terms of the law, but, as you point out, this deal involving this Chinese company, Anbang, and this large office tower in midtown Manhattan, which Jared Kushner has divested from, but the family still owns it. So, while they’re—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is going to be—

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —one of the biggest real estate deals in history in the city.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. According to this deal sheet that Bloomberg obtained, I believe it values this one office building at over $2 billion, which is the highest amount ever.

AMY GOODMAN: And they paid something like a billion for it in 2007?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: They paid about, I believe, $1.8 [billion] at, I think, the top of the market, and then it went—there’s been a sort of complicated series of transactions with this particular building.

AMY GOODMAN: And there was this famous meeting that Jared Kushner had after his father-in-law got elected, in November, early December, with the Chinese representatives of Anbang.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: That’s—Jared Kushner—that’s right. He had a meeting in November with these potential business partners from Anbang. It was also reported that, in February, he was present for a meeting with China’s top diplomat with Trump. So, you know, seems to be a clear intersection of his—or at least of his family’s business interests and Jared Kushner’s work in the government. And it’s not just this China deal. I mean, there’s all kinds of other ways that government policy could affect Jared Kushner’s holdings—and his wife Ivanka Trump’s holdings, for that matter. And there’s actually conflicts of—conflict of interest laws around this. So, he needs to recuse himself from matters that would have an effect on his assets.

AMY GOODMAN: So is he breaking the law if he doesn’t? Is President Trump breaking the law including him in these meetings?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, you know, it gets sort of technical. You have to recuse yourself from matters that would have a direct and predictable impact on your assets. So, it’s hard to know from the outside exactly what he’s involved in. I mean, we’ve been asking the White House about his recusal plan. They haven’t been saying anything beyond sort of general statements. But the other thing is, Kushner Companies is privately held. We don’t actually even know at this point—we may a little later, through disclosures—what Jared Kushner owns. It’s not just real estate. You know, his brother has a health insurance company called Oscar that Jared Kushner also had a stake in, that may have been divested. So, there’s a lot of unknowns here, but it’s something to watch.

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