Israel invested in “Mideast peace” Trump adviser Jared Kushner

A new report indicates that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner holds a series of strong and shady financial ties to Israel, even as the administration insists he serves as a legitimate broker for potential peace efforts in the Middle East.

His family real estate business, Kushner Companies, received a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of the largest financial institutions in Israel, The New York Times reported. The deal was private and took place shortly before Kushner and Trump visited Israel in May on their first diplomatic trip.

The deal “pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm,” the Times reported. Despite the fact that Kushner sold parts of his business upon taking a job in the White House, he still holds a significant share in his family’s company, which include the Baltimore-area apartment buildings.

But the Menora deal only scratches the surface of Kushner’s financial conflicts of interests in the region that make the prospect of a fair solution seem bleak at the absolute best.

“The ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner, Robert Weissman, the president of the nonprofit government ethics group, Public Citizen, told the Times. “No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests.”

The Trump administration has defended itself, with a White House official saying Kushner “takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration,” the Times reported.

Kushner’s disclosure forms had “100 errors and omissions and multiple updates,” Newsweek reported in October.

Kushner’s family foundation also continues to donate heavily to a group that constructs the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a group largely seen as “one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution,” ProPublica reported.

The Kushners have also engaged in real estate deals with “at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey.” Beny Steinmetz, the most well-known member of the family, is the subject of a bribery investigation by the Justice Department, the Times reported.

“A lot of people wonder whether the United States has ever been an honest broker in the Middle East, and given the positions of the Trump administration, it’s probably even more vulnerable to those claims,” Richard W. Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for the Bush administration told the Times. Using Kushner, the U.S. is “sending over a special envoy who has already identified himself personally more with the hawkish views,” he added.
“He [Kushner] is getting money from wealthy citizens and businesses in one particular country,” Painter said. “You’ve got a situation that is going to be abused by people who don’t like the United States. He’s going to make it that much worse.”

The Kushner family ties to Israel obviously run quite deep, and it’s difficult to imagine the president’s son-in-law as a fair and unbiased broker of a solution for peace in the Middle East — especially with zero prior experience of diplomatic work. Trump has received international condemnation for his brash decision, which has only further stoked tensions with the Palestinians, as well as isolated the U.S. and Israel.

[Salon]

Trump Signed ‘Letter of Intent’ for Russian Tower During Campaign

Four months into his campaign for president of the United States, Donald Trump signed a “letter of intent” to pursue a Trump Tower-style building development in Moscow, according to a statement from the then-Trump Organization Chief Counsel Michael Cohen.

The involvement of then-candidate Trump in a proposed Russian development deal contradicts repeated statements Trump made during the campaign, including telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in July 2016 that his business had “no relationship to Russia whatsoever.”

The disclosure from Cohen, who has described himself as Trump’s personal lawyer, came as Cohen’s attorney gave congressional investigators scores of documents and emails from the campaign, including several pertaining to the Moscow development idea.

“Certain documents in the production reference a proposal for ‘Trump Tower Moscow,’ which contemplated a private real estate development in Russia,” Cohen’s statement says. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it, was unrelated to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign.”

In a separate statement texted to ABC News, Cohen added that “the Trump Moscow proposal was simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”

Cohen specifically says in his statement that Trump was told three times about the Moscow proposal.

“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015,” his statement says.

Cohen also makes clear that he himself engaged in communication directly with the Kremlin about the proposal during the ongoing 2016 presidential campaign. His statement says he wrote to the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the request of Felix Sater, a frequent Trump Organization associate who had proposed the Trump Moscow development.

“In mid-January 2016, Mr. Sater suggested that I send an email to Mr. Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued,” Cohen’s statement says. “Those permissions were never provided. I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal.”

The Trump Moscow development proposal, which was first reported Monday by The Washington Post, provides a new look at the relationship between the president’s real estate firm and Sater, a convicted felon who served a year in New York state prison for stabbing a man during a bar fight.

Sater is a controversial figure who served for many years as a federal government cooperating witness on a host of matters involving organized crime and national security. Sater had also traveled in Moscow with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in the mid-2000s and handed out business cards identifying himself as a “senior adviser” to Donald Trump Sr.

Trump had taken pains to distance himself from Sater. In one sworn deposition, regarding a Trump development in Florida on which Sater had worked, Trump said “I don’t know him very well … if he were sitting in the room right now I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

The emails show Sater and Cohen – friends since their teenage years growing up in Brooklyn – sharing their dreams of a Trump presidency.

In one, made public Monday by The Washington Post and New York Times, Sater writes: “I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”

And Sater adds, pointedly: “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”

On Sept. 30, 2015, Trump Organization officials told ABC News that Sater had inflated his connections to the company. Alan Garten, a senior Trump Organization attorney, told ABC News that “there’s really no direct relationship” between Sater and the real estate firm.

“To be honest, I don’t know that he ever brought any deals,” Garten said.

That was the same month Sater brought the company the Trump Moscow development proposal, according to Cohen’s statement. Cohen’s statement notes that he did not share the proposal with others in his firm.

“Mr. Sater, on occasion, made claims about aspects of the proposal, as well as his ability to bring the proposal to fruition. Over the course of my business dealings with Mr. Sater, he has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’” Cohen wrote. “As a result, I did not feel that it was necessary to routinely apprise others within the Trump Organization of communications that Mr. Sater sent only to me.”

Garten and an attorney for Sater did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

For five months, the Trump Organization gave serious consideration to the Moscow development idea. But Cohen told ABC News he scuttled the plan in January 2016, one year before Trump was sworn in as president.

“I abandoned the Moscow proposal because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing, and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition,” Cohen said. “It was a building proposal that did not succeed and nothing more.”

[ABC News]

Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises. Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, was a broker for the Trump Organization at the time, which means he was paid to deliver real estate deals.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’ ” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”

Mr. Sater presented himself as so influential in Russia that he helped arrange a 2006 trip that Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, took to Moscow. “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” he said.

Ms. Trump said she had no involvement in the discussions about the Moscow deal. In a statement, she said she that during the 2006 trip, she took “a brief tour of Red Square and the Kremlin but I have never met President Vladimir Putin.” She did not say whether she sat in his chair.

The Times reported earlier this year on the plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which never materialized. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported the existence of the correspondence between Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen but not its content.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned over emails to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s campaign was involved. Some of the emails were obtained by The Times.

The Trump Organization issued a statement Monday saying: “To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia.”

[New York Times]

Russian Bank Directly Linked to Putin Helped Finance a Trump Hotel

A partner of President Trump’s financed Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto using hundreds of millions of dollars received from the Russian bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB, The Wall Street Journal reports. At the time of the deal, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat on VEB’s supervisory board; Russian experts say the bank is a “vehicle for the Russian government to fund politically important projects,” The Wall Street Journal writes.

Trump’s partner, Russian-Canadian developer Alexander Shnaider, helped finance the hotel after selling his company’s share in a Ukrainian steelmaker for $850 million. The unknown buyer, financed by VEB, was reportedly “an entity acting for the Russian government.”

After Mr. Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the steelmaker, Mr. Shnaider injected more money into the Trump Toronto project, which was financially troubled. Mr. Shnaider’s lawyer, Symon Zucker, said in an April interview that about $15 million from the asset sale went into the Trump Toronto project. A day later, he wrote in an email: “I am not able to confirm that any funds” from the deal “went into the Toronto project.”

A spokesman for the Trump Organization, the family’s real-estate firm, said Mr. Trump had no involvement in any financial dealings with VEB and that the Trump company “merely licensed its brand and manages the hotel and residences.” VEB didn’t respond to requests for comment. [The Wall Street Journal]

In February, Trump claimed: “To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with [has dealings with Russia].” Trump also directed his lawyers to review his tax returns and release a letter showing limited income from Russian sources over the past decade.

[The Week]