Kushner's trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar is a final effort before President-elect Joe Biden assumes office “to secure more diplomatic agreements in the Middle East before the Trump administration leaves office in January, according to U.S. and Gulf officials,” according to the Wall Street Journal's Dion Nissenbaum and Summer Said.
Saudi Arabia agreed to allow “Israeli airliners cross its airspace en route to the United Arab Emirates” after talks with Kushner, as reported by Reuters' Steve Holland. But experts told Power Up it's unlikely that Kushner's long-shot diplomatic effort this week will result in its goal of a major breakthrough in solving the years-long rift between Qatar and its other neighbors in the Gulf, including Riyadh.
Yet it could benefit Kushner personally as he is poised to leave the White House, since such a trip puts his close personal relationships with world leaders on full display.
Kushner's friendship with MBS has been the subject of scrutiny and fascination over the course of the administration — from their 4 a.m. nights together “swapping stories and planning strategy” to their private communications on WhatsApp. And the agreement Kushner helped broker that normalized relations between Israel and three Arab states earlier this fall was hailed even by Trump critics, even as an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal eluded him.
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Power Up that Kushner made it “unmistakably clear” in their discussions about issues in the region in 2017 and 2018 that he and Trump planned “to develop what he described as strategic and personal relationships with the Saudis and Emirates.”
- “I guarantee you this will not be the last trip he'll take to Saudi Arabia,” said Miller, a former State Department Middle East analyst and negotiator. “These are extremely important relationships to cultivate if you are interested in making money and continuing a relevant role in the Arab-Israeli state issue — which I'm sure he is.”
- “I find it very hard to believe that this [trip] is about Qatar,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, told Power Up. “I suspect there are other reasons for this — that the Trump-MBS family relationship is going to outlast January 21 and they are looking to cement that.”
Before joining the White House, Kushner served as a chief executive of his family's real estate empire. Several former associates suspect that he could return to the real estate industry once he leaves the White House — but with a broadened, global focus. The White House did not comment on Kushner's next steps.
- “There's [Kushner's] family business and what ways there are to add to that — and then investments he always did with [his brother],” a source close to the couple told Power Up of potential future options for Kushner. “He has access to more capital because the relationships he developed in Middle East are significant,” the source said, but noted it's still unclear if that will change the family's strategic approach.
- The connections they made from their White House positions will only help Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser, in their next moves, a former White House official tells Power Up. “The relationships they now have with people like MBS? Don't take them lightly. They will continue whatever they built, move on and travel and be a part of this global enterprise.”
- “Kushner is unlikely to feel satisfied by his family’s own real estate business unless he took it more global, said allies of the couple,” Politico's Meridith McGraw and Nancy Cook reported in November.
Kushner retained a financial stake and partial ownership in his family's real estate company, along with other business ventures while working for the president. As Kushner assumed high-profile roles in negotiations and meetings with foreign countries like Saudi Arabia and China, his family continued to solicit money from investors overseas for real estate ventures and highlighted their ties to him as they wooed investors.
- In 2017, for example, the New York Times reported that “Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer made a pitch to attract $150 million in financing for a Jersey City housing development, known as One Journal Square, to more than 100 Chinese investors gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing.”
- Why this matters: “While he relinquished day-to-day control of the company, the arrangement has drawn criticism from government ethics experts, who say it opens the doors to conflicts of interest and possible influence from foreign entities,” per our colleagues Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Any Narayanswamy.
- And once Trump leaves the White House, he is “expected to do something no president before him has done: cut multimillion dollar deals with foreign governments and companies for his own private business,” Anita Kumar reports for Politico this week. “Trump’s namesake company plans to resume foreign real estate projects, likely luxury hotels, as it grapples with a tarnished brand in the United States and the need to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, according to three people familiar with the plans, not to mention past public statements from Trump's children.”
CHANGES AFOOT FOR SAUDI: The changing of power in Washington may bring a political realignment for Saudi Arabia, which will soon be dealing with a new U.S. president who described the country as a “pariah” on the debate stage.
- Biden has vowed to take crack down on Saudi Arabia's human-rights record and called for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi led war in Yemen. He's also been highly critical of Trump's response toward Saudi leaders following the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In an interview this week with the New York Times's Thomas Friedman, Biden also reaffirmed his willingness to return to the Iran deal and end Trump's sanctions on Iran, a longtime regional adversary of Saudi Arabia. Top Saudi leaders applauded Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the international nuclear agreement at the time.
- “I think there will be a real chill between the U.S. and MBS — I think it'll be more like a frozen tundra,” Riedel added of when Trump and Kushner leave the White House. “And we can afford to do that particularly with the price of oil at $45 a barrel — what do we need Saudi Arabia for? And especially if you're the climate change president, you need them even less.”
But there are already signs that MBS is looking past the Trumps and toward the new reality. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benhamin Netanyahu and MBS in Saudi Arabia last week, in hopes that a normalization deal would be reached between the two rivals. However, MBS "pulled back from a deal, according to the Saudi advisors and U.S. officials, largely because of the U.S. election result," the Wall Street Journal's Summer Said, Stephen Kalin and Dion Nissenbaum report.
- "Saudi aides said the prince, eager to build ties with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, was reluctant to take the step now, when he could use a deal later to help cement relations with the new American leader."
In the agencies
TRUMP MULLS FIRING BARR: “The president remained livid at Attorney General William P. Barr with one senior administration official indicating there was a chance Barr could be fired — not just for his public comments undercutting Trump’s unfounded claims of election-shifting fraud, but also for steps he did not take on a probe of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Trump’s campaign,” Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett report.
- Aides are trying to convince Trump not to ax his AG: “One senior administration official said there was a chance Trump would fire his attorney general and asserted that the president was not merely frustrated over Barr’s fraud-related assertions. The person said that several people are trying to persuade Trump not to do so.”
- “Trump, the official said, was perhaps even angrier that Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham did not issue a public report of his findings before last month’s election, and that Barr had secretly appointed Durham as special counsel in October, giving him extra legal and political protection to continue the work he started a year ago. Durham is examining whether crimes were committed by law enforcement during its 2016 investigation of whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia.”
The White House refused to give Barr stout support:
The relationship has been declining for a while now: “One official said the two had barely spoken in recent months, as the president was frustrated by the attorney general’s not releasing any findings of Durham’s investigation before the election and not taking more aggressive steps to back his claims of election fraud,” our colleagues write.
- “Barr met Tuesday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but it is unclear what they discussed.”
At the White House
THE CONSPIRACIES ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE: “Escalating his attack on democracy from within the White House, Trump distributed an astonishing 46-minute video rant filled with baseless allegations of voter fraud and outright falsehoods in which he declared the nation’s election system ‘under coordinated assault and siege’ and argued that it was ‘statistically impossible’ for him to have lost to Biden,” Philip Rucker reports.
- A concession does not seem imminent: “Any hope that the president might be slowly coming to grips with his loss and accepting the fact that Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20 was dashed by his combative and emphatic tone, which amounted to a call to arms to his supporters. The fight is paying dividends so far, with Trump’s political operation using a blizzard of misleading appeals to supporters to raise more than $170 million since Election Day on Nov. 3.”
On the Hill
DEMS MOVE ON RELIEF PLAN: “The top Democratic congressional leaders embraced a $908 billion coronavirus relief framework — a massive concession meant to prod Trump and Senate Republicans into accepting a compromise,” Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report.
- Efforts have been stalled for months: “Wednesday’s announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer appeared to be the first time that leaders from one party agreed to back a proposal that had substantial support of members of the other party. And the willingness to accept a potential bill totaling less than $1 trillion represents a significant step-down for the top Democrats, who had pushed for more than $3 trillion in new aid.”
It's does not appear McConnell will support the plan: “The ‘emergency relief framework’ released by the bipartisan group on Tuesday is light on details but outlines how to allocate $908 billion for struggling small businesses, state and local governments, and other parts of the economy hurt by covid-19, the disease caused by the virus,” our colleagues write.
- Many areas still need to be worked out: “The package would fund federal supplement unemployment benefits of $300 per week for millions of jobless Americans. That assistance would cover at least from January until the end of March for the unemployed, according to one person familiar with the group’s work. No decision has been made yet on whether the benefits would retroactively cover the several prior months during which unemployment benefits have not been paid.”
- But at least one more Republican senator signed on: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she would back it.
WHO WILL BE BIDEN'S PANDEMIC CZAR?: “One contender for Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, envisioned as a powerful role in setting the agenda and orchestrating the work of federal agencies, is Jeff Zients, a co-chairman of the Biden transition team who led the Obama administration’s National Economic Council. Another is Vivek H. Murthy, a co-chair of the transition’s covid-19 advisory board and a former U.S. Surgeon General,” Amy Goldstein and Toluse Olorunnipa report.
HHS secretary: “Within Biden’s camp, the thinking appears to be evolving as to who should lead the Department of Health and Human Services, a sprawling department with moving parts crucial to bringing the pandemic under control,” our colleagues write.
- Who's leading now: “Murthy has been considered for that role, while New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), had been considered a leading candidate although she is said to be out of the running. She has the emphatic support of Latino organizations and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”
PERDUE'S STOCK TRADES CONTINUE TO HAUNT HIM: “An examination of Perdue’s stock trading during his six years in office reveals that he has been the Senate’s most prolific stock trader by far, sometimes reporting 20 or more transactions in a single day,” the Times's Stephanie Saul, Kate Kelly and Michael LaForgia report.
- The frequency of the Georgia Republican's moves are staggering: “His 2,596 trades, mostly in stocks but also in bonds and funds, roughly equal the combined trading volume of the next five most active traders in the Senate.”
And once again, there's another potential conflict of interest: As a member of the Senate cybersecurity subcommittee, Perdue has raised concerns about overseas hackers, the Times reports. “Not only was the issue important to Perdue, so was FireEye, a federal contractor that provides malware detection and threat-intelligence services. Beginning in 2016, the senator bought and sold FireEye stock 61 times, at one point owning as much as $250,000 worth of shares in the company.”
Outside the Beltway
TWO MORE GRIM MILESTONES: “The United States counted more than 200,000 coronavirus cases in a day for the first time, while the number of people currently battling the virus in hospitals went over the 100,000 mark. This comes as the country is heading into what is predicted to be a difficult winter in the midst of the pandemic and flu season,” Meryl Kornfield and Jacqueline Dupree report.
In the media
Lawmakers call Trump's defense bill veto threat: “Trump is headed toward a veto showdown with Congress, as the White House doubles down on Trump’s promise to scuttle a $740 billion defense bill unless it opens the door for new, unrelated sanctions against Silicon Valley — his second threat to kill the must-pass legislation,” Karoun Demirjian and Tony Romm report.
- “With most leading Republicans and Democrats firmly united in their opposition to Trump’s demands, the president is waging an uphill battle that, if nobody blinks, could result in the first veto override of his presidency.”
Pompeo keeps on partying: “Following a sharp spike in coronavirus cases across the country, State Department leadership sent out a notice to employees one week ago recommending that ‘any non-mission critical events’ be changed to ‘virtual events as opposed to in-person gatherings,' ” John Hudson reports.
- But not every event is created equal: “That same week, U.S. event planners were told that the guidance did not apply to the upcoming functions they were working on: large indoor holiday parties hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan, on the eighth floor of the State Department involving hundreds of guests, food and drinks.”
END OF AN ERA: John Wall is no longer a Washington Wizard, Ben Golliver and Ava Wallace report.
- “The Wizards agreed to trade Wall to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook, ending the five-time all-star point guard’s 10-year run with the franchise. The deal, which comes after rumored trade requests by both Wall and Westbrook in recent weeks, also includes a protected first-round pick going from Washington to Houston.”
A former No. 1 pick, Wall forged a connection with the city: