Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick for CIA director, ran a “black site” to torture prisoners

President Trump on Tuesday nominated CIA veteran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next director, tapping a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.

Haspel, 61, would become the first woman to lead the CIA if she is confirmed to succeed outgoing director Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to serve as secretary of state. Haspel’s selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency’s darkest chapters.

Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture.

When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.

Trump announced the move on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that Pompeo would move to the State Department and that Haspel would “become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, said Tuesday on his Twitter feed that Haspel is “quite literally a war criminal.”

But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signaled his support for Haspel. “I know Gina personally, and she has the right skill set, experience and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies,” he said. “I’m proud of her work and know that my committee will continue its positive relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency under her leadership. I look forward to supporting her nomination, ensuring its consideration without delay.”

Haspel spent much of her 33-year CIA career in undercover assignments overseas and at CIA headquarters, including serving as the agency’s top representative in London and as the acting head of its clandestine service in 2013.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials who have worked with Haspel praised her as an effective leader who could be expected to stand up to the pressures that Trump has often placed on spy agencies — including his denunciations of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Officials described Haspel as a consummate “insider” and said CIA employees would greet her appointment with some relief, because an intelligence veteran would be back in charge.

“The building will love the fact that she’s an insider,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior CIA officer.

Pompeo, a former member of Congress who spent his early career in business, had no profile in the intelligence community apart from his leading role on a congressional committee investigating the terrorist attacks on a U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya. Career CIA officers have seen Pompeo as one of the most overtly political directors in the agency’s history and a staunch public defender of the president.

Haspel, by contrast, has almost no public profile. But she is a visible presence inside CIA headquarters, running day-to-day operations while Pompeo handles the public-facing aspects of the job, making speeches and media appearances and meeting with the president.

“This is not someone who has sharp elbows, but she is a sharp competitor,” said a former senior intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss Haspel.

Rumors of Pompeo’s departure have flared up several times in recent months, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had often been mentioned as a leading replacement. Current intelligence officials reacted with alarm to that prospect. “Disastrous” is how one described a possible nomination of Cotton, who is widely seen as too political and inexperienced for the job.

Pompeo’s appointment inspired some of those same concerns, but he has been a staunch defender of the agency, and that has bolstered his credibility among career intelligence officers.

Pompeo also had a strong rapport with the president, a quality that always makes a director valuable to the rank-and-file. But it is not clear that Haspel has the same close relationship with Trump.

“She does bring continuity after Pompeo,” said the former senior intelligence official, noting the two were in accord on strengthening the agency’s counterterrorism operations. “The question is, how much juice does she have in the White House?”

Inside CIA, Haspel has advocated a more aggressive approach to overseas operations. She had also led the agency’s work on Russia, which could put her at odds with a president who has accused intelligence officials of trying to undermine his election by stating that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help get Trump elected.

Her extensive involvement in a covert program that used harrowing interrogation measures on al-Qaeda suspects resurfaced last year when she was named deputy director of the CIA after Trump had signaled as a presidential candidate that he would consider reestablishing agency prisons and resuming interrogation methods that President Obama had banned. Trump never followed through on that plan, which was opposed by senior members of his administration including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Haspel ran one of the first CIA black sites, a compound in Thailand code-named “Cat’s Eye,” where al-Qaeda suspects Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in 2002.

An exhaustive Senate report on the program described the frightening toll inflicted. At one point, the report said, Zubaida was left “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Internal CIA memos cited in a Senate report on the agency’s interrogation program described agency officials who witnessed the treatment as distraught and concerned about its legality. “Several on the team profoundly affected,” one agency employee wrote, “…some to the point of tears and choking up.”

Haspel later served as chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of dozens of videotapes made at the Thailand site.

Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Haspel “drafted a cable” ordering the tapes’ destruction in 2005 as the program came under mounting public scrutiny and that he then “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”

The Justice Department spent several years investigating alleged abuses in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes, but no charges were ever filed.

When she was named deputy CIA director last year, the agency took the unusual step of soliciting testimonials from seven former top intelligence and congressional officials. Their statements of support were included in the agency’s release. Former CIA director Michael Hayden described Haspel as “a trusted friend, lieutenant and guide to the sometimes opaque corridors of American espionage.”

Some believe she had been unfairly penalized for her role in counterterrorism operations that were launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and carried out with the legal approval of the Justice Department.

Haspel was passed over in 2013 for a permanent assignment as head of the CIA’s clandestine service, although agency officials said the decision was not driven by her connection to the prisons controversy.

[Washington Post]

Longtime Trump aide fired over financial crime investigation

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing told CNN.

The charges are not related to the President, the source said.

Minutes after news of his departure broke, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would be joining the reelection effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.

McEntee escorted from the White House on Monday, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Two sources said McEntee was pushed out because of issues with his security clearance, making him just the latest aide to be forced out because of difficulties obtaining a full security clearance.

McEntee declined a CNN request to comment.

“We do not comment on personnel issues,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN in a statement.

White House aides were stunned when they learned of McEntee’s sudden departure, two sources tell CNN. His abrupt firing came out of nowhere and there was no warning, they said.

McEntee was one of few aides who did not have their access to the President limited when John Kelly became the chief of staff last fall. He was a near-constant presence in the West Wing, and was one of a select group of staffers who were often summoned by the President to the White House residence. He regularly traveled with Trump, and was seen boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House as Trump headed for Pennsylvania on Saturday.

He was scheduled to travel to California with Trump on Tuesday, but then he was fired.
McEntee, who joined the Trump campaign in its first months, is the latest of the President’s longest-serving aides to leave or announce plans to leave the White House, following the resignation of White House communications direct Hope Hicks two weeks earlier.

McEntee served as Trump’s body man during the campaign and into the White House alongside the President’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, who left the White House last fall. The role meant McEntee was nearly constantly at the President’s side.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of his exit.

Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale announced McEntee’s hire alongside that of Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign spokesperson in 2016 who will join the 2020 campaign as a senior adviser.

“As we build out our operations for the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 reelection campaign, we are pleased to welcome back two outstanding members of our 2016 team,” Parscale said in a statement. “We need the help of proven leaders such as Katrina and John to promote the President’s growing portfolio of achievements across the country.”

McEntee is just the latest aide to leave the White House amid issues with his security clearance, after White House chief of staff John Kelly enacted a series of reforms following the scandal involving disgraced White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

Kelly sought to limit access to classified information for aides with longstanding interim security clearances and several aides have since left the White House after it became clear their applications for a full security clearances would not be approved.

[CNN]

Emails show Ben Carson and his wife were personally involved in buying $31,000 office furniture

Newly released emails show Ben Carson and his wife personally selected a $31,000 dining room set for his office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The liberal watchdog group American Oversight obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, and the documents cast doubt on HUD spokesman Raffi Williams’ denial that Carson had any involvement in selecting the furniture, reported CNN.

“Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” Willliams told CNN last month, when the story first broke. “The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

Carson himself blamed the purchase on an unnamed HUD staffer, and told CNN he was “surprised” by the $31,000 price tag and promised to cancel the order — which the company confirmed had happened on March 1.

“The secretary did not order a new table,” said Carson, the HUD secretary. “The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

But the newly released emails show two Carson aides discussed the dining set back in May 2017, when they asked about repairing the “fairly precarious” existing furniture, which would have cost an estimated $1,100 to fix.

Carson’s statement earlier this month confirmed he feared the old furniture was “unsafe” and “beyond repair.”

HUD’s scheduling office contacted Candy Carson, the secretary’s wife, in August to take part in the office redecorating, although the emails don’t show a response from her.

Carson said he and his wife were told there was a $25,000 budget that must be used by a deadline or it would be lost, and they received a $24,666 quote for the furniture.

“The career administration staffer sent the quote to Carson’s office,” CNN reported, “specifically Carson’s chief of staff and his executive assistant, casting further doubt on the agency’s assertion that the purchase was made entirely by career staff.”

The staffer told Carson the quote seemed to be reasonable and justified the purchase because the previous furniture was purchased in 1988, and receipts showed HUD moved forward with the purchase — which was now $7,000 higher — four months later.

One email chain shows serving cart options were approved by “leadership” but doesn’t specify who made the request.

That appears to contradict Williams’ sweeping denial that Carson and his wife had any involvement in the purchase process, or any interest in doing so.

Helen Foster, a senior career official at HUD, says she was demoted and replaced by a Trump appointee after refusing to break the law to approve the over-budget redecoration.

[Raw Story]

Trump HUD appointee spread conspiracy about Hillary Clinton’s satanic ritual

Joe Gibbs, one of President Trump’s appointees in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, spread the false rumor that Hillary Clinton is a Satanist during the 2016 election, CNN reports.

John Gibbs was a conservative commentator tapped to join HUD as the head of a program aimed at spurring economic development and now holds the title of senior adviser in the community planning and development division.

On Twitter, Gibbs used the “#spiritcooking” hashtag, helping spread the rumor that Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta participated in a Satanic ritual involving the consumption of bodily fluids. #Spiritcooking evolved into the better-known #pizzagate despite being debunked at every turn.

The tweets from Gibbs are archived on the Wayback Machine.

He also used the term “cucks” in a defense of Milo Yiannopoulos and defended anti-Semitic alt-right commenter Ricky Vaughn when he was banned from Twitter.

[RawStory]

Multiple White House employees — including one Melania aide — fired over security clearance issues

The White House has either fired or reassigned multiple employees over problems with their security clearances, according to ABC News.

According to ABC News’ sources, the list of fired or reassigned employees includes “at least one individual employed in the Office of the First Lady,” although the report does not go into detail about exactly whom has been let go.

In addition to the staffers that have already been fired, ABC News’ sources say that there is “a list of several other individuals with security clearance issues that are under consideration for possible termination or reassignment in the coming days.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly has reportedly been making lists of White House employees with security clearance problems in the wake of the debacle surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter, who was fired last month after it was revealed that he allegedly beat his two ex-wives.

Kelly has also downgraded the security clearance of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who can now no longer access top-secret classified information. Despite this, however, the president still sent Kushner to meet with Mexican officials as a diplomatic envoy on Wednesday.

[RawStory]

EPA appointee gets approval to consult for outside clients

A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.

A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients.

Pruitt named Konkus, a Republican political consultant, to serve as the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs. His duties have included signing off on hundreds of millions in federal grants.

The letter gave Konkus approval to work for at least two clients. Those names were blacked out by the agency before a copy was provided to Congress, citing a privacy exemption more typically used to protect personnel records and medical files. The letter said Konkus was also expected to take on additional private clients, advising them about “strategy, mail and media production.”

Konkus didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. His boss said he followed proper procedure.

Liz Bowman, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs, said, “As the letter states, EPA career ethics approvals have reviewed and approved these opportunities.”

Federal regulations would still limit Konkus from receiving more than $27,765 from outside clients in 2017, according to the letter. His taxpayer-funded salary for his full-time position at the EPA is about $145,000 annually.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Konkus worked as an executive vice president for Jamestown Associates, a political consulting firm. According to the firm’s website last year, Konkus “worked on the ground tirelessly to help President Trump win Florida.”

Konkus also served two years as chief of staff to former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. A Republican, Carroll was forced to resign in 2013 over consulting work she had previously done for a scam veteran’s charity that state and federal prosecutors said laundered more than $300 million in proceeds from illegal gambling parlors.

Since Konkus arrived in Washington in early 2017, his responsibilities have included reviewing and approving all EPA grants prior to being awarded to help ensure they “adhere to the policies and principles of the current administration,” according to his online resume.

The Washington Post reported in September that Konkus had been scrutinizing grant applications for mentions of climate change, which he reportedly referred to as “the double C-word.”

That’s in line with statements by Pruitt, who as the administration’s top environmental official has embraced a pro-fossil-fuel agenda while questioning climate science showing that global warming is primarily caused by man-made carbon emissions.

House Democrats decried what they called the politicization of the EPA’s grants-making process in a letter sent to Pruitt on Monday.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” said the letter. Signatories included Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Democrats also demanded a list of all other EPA political appointees receiving outside compensation, as well as unredacted copies of the letters approving the outside work.

The AP filed a public records request with EPA in August under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking copies of all ethics letters, agreements or waivers for Pruitt’s team. So far, the agency has yet to release a single document.

Along with the information about Konkus’ side jobs, the House Democrats also got a copy of letter approving similar outside employment for Patrick Davis, another Trump political appointee working as a senior adviser for public engagement in the EPA’s regional office in Denver.

Like Konkus, Davis is a Republican political consultant who led Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado. According to a 2015 report by ProPublica, Davis was accused two years earlier of defrauding a conservative super PAC called Vote2ReduceDebt, which was funded by an elderly oil tycoon. The group collapsed after Davis allegedly paid nearly $3 million of the PAC’s funds to organizations run by him or his close associates, according to the news report.

Davis told the AP on Monday that the dispute involving Vote2Reduce Debt “was mitigated to a mutually agreed-upon, private, amicable conclusion.”

An EPA ethics lawyer in February 2017 approved of Davis receiving outside compensation for work as sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting, which provides services such as robocalls to political campaigns and advocacy groups. The agency redacted how much Davis is to be paid for the agreement, but his outside compensation would also be capped at less than $28,000.

Bowman said Davis’ work for Telephone Town Hall Meeting is conducted on his own time and does not intersect with work for EPA.

Environmentalists said Monday that the agency’s lack of transparency about the private payments to EPA staff on the public’s payroll raises concerns about whom they are really working for.

“The American people already know that Scott Pruitt is working for corporate polluters and not for them, but the revelation that his staff is moonlighting for private clients while working at the EPA full-time brings suspicions of pay-to-play to a whole new level,” said Melinda Pierce, the legislative director of the Sierra Club. “And if Konkus is not working for polluters directly, the public is forced to ask whether he is running a partisan political operation from within the agency instead.”

[Associated Press]

Trump says there’s no CHAOS in White House amid unprecedented staff upheaval

President Trump sought to push back Tuesday on news reports that “chaos” has enveloped his White House, saying staff turnover and infighting are part of the normal course of business.

He also warned that more dismissals may be on the way.

“People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision,” Trump said in a morning tweet, later adding: “There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

Amid real and rumored staff departures, Trump also said that “I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection),” but he did not specify who he might be referring to.

Later in the day, during a joint news conference with the prime minister of Sweden, Trump again dismissed the idea of staff turmoil, and said he won’t have any trouble filling all the jobs that have opened up.

While some Republicans in Washington have questioned whether they would like to work in the Trump White House, the president said, “maybe people don’t want to work for Trump,” but “everybody wants to work in the White House.”

Not only does it look good on a resume, Trump said, but the White House is “just a great place to work; it’s got tremendous energy.”

While aides have fought, sometimes publicly, over issues ranging from trade to foreign policy, Trump told reporters that he likes “conflict” among his advisers.

“I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that,” Trump said. “And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it’s the best way to go.”

Staff turbulence has been a regular feature of the Trump administration since he took office on Jan. 20, 2017.

Within a month, his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned over claims he had lied to the FBI about contacts with a Russian ambassador; within seven months, his chief staff, press secretary, and two communications directors left amid various disputes; Trump and much of his staff became embroiled in an investigation of Russia influence during the 2016 election.

In the past week, another communications director, long-time aide Hope Hicks, announced her resignation, while aides fought it out in the press over the timing and wisdom of Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

As aides fought, Trump himself tweeted that “trade wars” would be “good” and “easy to win,” further roiling markets already worried about the impacts of tariffs.

Trump is looking for his fifth communications director; he has had four if you count then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who did both jobs before his resignation in July.

Spicer left when Trump brought in Anthony Scaramucci to run communications; he lasted 11 days after getting caught after on tape trashing other White House officials.

After Trump’s denial of chaos, Scaramucci sent out a tweet quoting comedian Mel Brooks: “If you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy and colorful and lively.”

[USA Today]

Reality

The Trump White House has had more first-year departures than any other president in at least 40 years.

H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, John McEntee, Gary Cohn, Andrew McCabe all resigned or were fired since this tweet.

Trump nominates Dow Chemicals lawyer to oversee EPA toxic waste program

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday nominated a Dow Chemicals lawyer to head-up an Environmental Protection Agency unit that oversees hazardous waste disposal and chemical spills from toxic “Superfund” sites.

Trump named Peter Wright as assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). Wright served as Dow’s managing counsel for environmental health and safety and provided the company legal support for Superfund and other remediation sites, according to the EPA.

“He has the expertise and experience necessary to implement our ambitious goals for cleaning up the nation’s contaminated lands quickly and thoroughly,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release.

Pruitt has said that cleaning up Superfund sites would be a priority for the agency.

As head of OLEM, Wright would oversee the development of guidelines for the land disposal of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks and respond to abandoned and active hazardous waste sites, as well as accidental chemical releases through the Superfund program.

Dow Chemicals facilities are involved in dozens of Superfund projects.

Dow had accrued $219 million in accrued obligations for remediating Superfund sites, according to the company’s fourth quarter 2017 10-K filing.

Overall, Dow had accrued $1.3 billion in “probable environmental remediation and restoration costs,” according to the 10-K.

The EPA’s relationship with Dow had been under scrutiny after Pruitt last year announced the agency would decline to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical that EPA scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to ban because of the risk it said it posed to children and farm workers.

[Reuters]

Qatar Refused to Invest in Kushner’s Firm. Weeks Later, Jared Backed a Blockade of Qatar.

Jared Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s minister of finance last April, to solicit an investment in the family’s distressed asset at 666 Fifth Avenue, according to a new report from the Intercept.

The Qataris shot him down.

Weeks later, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates organized a blockade of Qatar. The Gulf monarchies claimed that this act of aggression was a response to Donald Trump’s call for the Arab world to crack down on terrorists — after taking in the president’s majestic sermon in Riyadh, the Saudis simply couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t take action to thwart Qatar’s covert financing of Islamist extremism.

In reality, the Saudis’ primary aim was to punish Doha for asserting its independence from Riyadh by, among other things, engaging with Iran and abetting Al Jazeera’s journalism. This was obvious to anyone familiar with the Saudis’ own affinity for (shamelessly) exporting jihadism — which is to say, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Middle East politics.

And it was equally obvious that the United States had nothing to gain from a conflict between its Gulf allies. Qatar hosts one of America’s largest and most strategically important air bases in the Middle East. Any development that pushes Doha away from Riyadh pulls it toward Tehran. Thus, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — and virtually every other arm of the U.S. government — scrambled to nip the blockade in the bud.

But Jared Kushner was (reportedly) an exception. Donald Trump was more than happy to endorse the idea that his speech had moved mountains, and commended the Saudis for punishing Qatar — first on Twitter, and then during a press conference in the Rose Garden. According to contemporary reports, his son-in-law was one of the only White House advisers to approve of this stance.

Perhaps, Kushner’s idiosyncratic view of the blockade had nothing to do with Qatar’s rejection of his father. Maybe the senior White House adviser simply wanted to tell Trump what the latter wished to hear. Alternatively, it’s at least conceivable that contemporary reports were wrong, and that Kushner played no significant role in Trump’s decision to support the blockade.

Regardless, the senior White House adviser is adamant that there was no relationship whatsoever between his family’s business dealings and the administration’s policy. “It is fantasy and part of a misinformation campaign for anyone to say or any media to report that Mr. Kushner took any action with respect to Qatar or any other country based on whether anyone in that country did or did not do business with his former company from which he disengaged before coming into the government,” Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement. “Mr. Kushner has not taken part in any business since then. This is nonsense.”

The government of Qatar, however, suspects otherwise. As NBC News reports:

Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

It’s worth noting that the project the Qatari foreign minister refused to finance wasn’t just one more item in the Kushner family’s portfolio; it was Jared’s baby — his misbegotten, sickly, drowning baby.

In 2007, Jared Kushner decided that the real-estate market had nowhere to go but up. And so the 26-year-old mogul decided to plow $500 million of his family’s money — and $1.3 billion in borrowed capital — into purchasing 666 Fifth Avenue for twice the price it had previously sold for. Even if we’d somehow avoided a global financial crisis, this would have been a bad bet: Before the crash, when the building was almost fully occupied, it generated only about two-thirds of the revenue the Kushners needed to keep up with their debt payments.

After the crisis, however, things got really hairy. The Kushners were forced to sell off the building’s retail space to pay their non-mortgage debt on the building — and then to hand over nearly half of the office space to Vornado as part of a refinancing agreement with the real-estate giant.

The office space that the Kushners retained is worth less than its $1.2 billion mortgage — which is due early in 2019. If their company can’t find some new scheme for refinancing and redeveloping the property by then, Kushner will have cost his family a fortune.

And Jared really doesn’t want that to happen. In the months between his father-in-law’s election and inauguration, Kushner divided his time between organizing the transition, and seeking capital from (suddenly quite interested) investors aligned with foreign governments: During that period, Kushner attempted to secure a $400 million loan from the Chinese insurance firm Anbang, and a $500 million one from former Qatari prime minister and billionaire investor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, also known as “HBJ.” Anbang pulled out once the deal attracted critical media scrutiny, and HBJ jumped ship when the Kushners failed to find a second major source of capital.

In those same weeks, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-affiliated Vnesheconombank. The senior White House adviser has insisted that this meeting was strictly political; Gorkov maintains it was strictly business.

All of these interactions are currently being scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

They have also, apparently, been studied by top government officials in the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — all of whom have privately discussed strategies for exploiting Jared Kushner’s business interests for geopolitical gain, according to a report from the Washington Post on Wednesday.

And if America’s allies and adversaries are looking for further (circumstantial) evidence that U.S. foreign policy might be for sale, the New York Times provided some this week, when it revealed that Kushner’s family company had won $500 million in financing last year from a pair of American firms right after their top executives had White House meetings with one Jared Kushner.

Maybe all of this looks worse than it is. But it looks like the president’s son-in-law worked to sour relations with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East — which has since drifted further into the orbit of a regime hostile to the United States — because it refused to bail out his family’s underwater real-estate investment.

Even if this is appearance is deceiving, why isn’t the mere semblance of such high corruption enough to bounce Kushner from the White House? Are Kushner’s personal skills really more valuable than his conflicts of interest are toxic? Is a real-estate heir who has no policy-making experience, background in geopolitics, or security clearance — but does have significant business interests in Israel — really such an ideal choice for brokering peace in the Middle East?

Kushner’s sole qualification for his senior White House position (beyond having been born and betrothed to the right people) is the business savvy that allowed him to avoid squandering his family’s enormous fortune — and if he doesn’t auction off American foreign policy for an emergency loan, he very well may have to delete that item from his résumé.

[New York Magazine]

Officials from four countries discussed exploiting Jared Kushner

Officials from at least four countries have discussed ways they could use Jared Kushner’s intricate business arrangements, lack of experience and financial woes to manipulate President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The paper reported that it is unclear, based on current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter, that the countries — – Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates — acted on the conversations.

The revelation is the latest in a series that call into question Kushner’s ability to work in the White House given his complex business ties.

CNN reported earlier on Tuesday that Kushner has been stripped of his access to the nation’s top secrets after chief of staff John Kelly mandated changes to the security clearance system. Kushner had been working on a temporary clearance, but, under the new system, aides who previously had “top secret” interim clearances saw their access downgrade to the less sensitive “secret” designation.

[CNN]

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