It is not exactly a state secret that amid the fear and loathing of the Trump White House, Steve Bannon had particular disdain and dislike for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Now there are allegations which draw them, as well as Jared Kushner’s father, further into the ever deepening Russia investigation.
The sacking by Trump of James Comey is being examined by special counsel Robert Mueller as a possible act of obstruction of justice. In Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury – for which Bannon was one of the main sources – comes the claim that Jared Kushner’s father, Charles, lobbied, through his son and daughter-in-law, for the removal of the FBI Director because his own family’s business interests were being caught up in the inquiry.
This version, if true, presents the extraordinary scenario that it was not just the President’s daughter and son-in-law (“Jarvanka”, as Bannon called them disparagingly) but the son-in-law’s father who had a say in one of the most crucial and most contentious decisions in recent American history.
Wolff states that Kushner Sr “channelled through his son and daughter-in-law that the Kushner family [business] dealings were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump”.
Charles Kushner, a property developer from a Jewish Polish background, is no stranger to controversy. In 2005 he was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. He served 14 months of the sentence at the Federal penitentiary in Camp Montgomery, Alabama. He had been fined $508,900 the previous year by the Federal Election Commission over the campaign contributions.
The witness tampering charge came from Kushner entrapping his brother-in-law, William Schulder, with a prostitute and then sending a tape to his sister, Esther, in retaliation, the court was told, for Schulder cooperating with federal investigators.
Jared Kushner had always been fiercely loyal to his father. Chris Christie was the US attorney who had sent his father to prison. Jared Kushner was accused of blocking Chris Christie, now governor of New Jersey, from holding any senior position in the Trump administration and carrying out a purge of Christie’s associates in the Trump team.
Jared Kushner took over his father’s business, carrying out a series of acquisitions in 2007. In the same year, he met the daughter of another real estate developer with a shady reputation, Donald Trump, at a business lunch and the couple subsequently married.
Mueller’s team has asked the White House for all documentation in relation to Comey’s dismissal. Kushner, it had been previously claimed, had pressed Trump to carry out the firing. Last November, after questions being raised repeatedly, Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said: “When the President made the decision to fire FBI Director Comey, Mr Kushner supported it.” Kushner has already appeared, behind closed doors, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing looking into the alleged Russian collusion.
The Wolff book is the first time it has been claimed that Jared Kushner’s father played a part in the Comey affair. The sacking of the FBI Director did not, however, save Kushner’s business interests from being drawn into a federal probe. As Bannon told Wolff: “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money laundering guy.
“Their path to f**king Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner... It’s as plain as a hair on your face… It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They are going to roll those two guys up and say play me or save me.”
It was revealed last month that federal authorities were looking at Jared Kushner’s ties to Deutsche Bank. Prosecutors requested records regarding a $285m loan the bank gave to the Kushner family real estate company a month before the presidential election.
The loan was part of a refinancing deal for four largely empty retail floors in the former New York Times headquarters in Manhattan from a Russian-born oligarch whose business was named in a New York money laundering case. The inquiry was led by US attorney Preet Bharara who had a series of successful prosecutions in office before being sacked by Trump. The President had personally asked Bharara to stay at his post but later changed his mind, it was reported, after being convinced by some advisors that the attorney was fiercely independent and may, one day, come after him.
The names of Ivanka and Donald Jr have, meanwhile, have made headlines over a criminal case from the past. Three months ago, a joint investigation by online news source ProPublica, public radio station WNYC and The New Yorker found that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had dropped a prosecution for fraud against Ivanka Trump and Donald Jr after Donald Trump’s long-term personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, made a personal contribution to the District Attorney’s campaign. Kasowitz has been representing Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.
“Jarvanka”, according to Wolff’s book, made a deal about which of them would run for the presidency in the future; it would supposedly be Ivanka. Bannon, on hearing about this, exclaimed, “They didn’t say that? Stop. Oh, come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my God!”
Trump’s former chief strategist described her as, among other things, “dumb as a brick” and “the source of all bad advice”, “the queen of all leaks” and declared that “the daughter will bring down the father”. Kushner, he charged, was “treasonous” in attending a meeting, along with Donald Jr and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin and was “totally out of his depth” in the White House.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are going to remain in the public eye, but perhaps not wholly for reasons they would have wanted. Bannon is not the only one who is cheering on their discomfort. Chris Christie wanted to stress that Jared Kushner’s conduct warranted examination: “I’m telling you that he deserves the scrutiny because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role. OK, well then, if he’s innocent of that, then that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts. And if he’s not, that will come out too.”
Old enmities are resurfacing and scores are being settled as the astonishing Trump presidency lurches from crisis to crisis in its toxic mix of bitterness, accusations and recriminations.
Charles Kushner has not yet made any public comment about the allegation in Wolff’s book
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