In December 2016, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential transition, was busy helping shape the new administration. But Trump’s son-in-law also had another pressing concern: finding a wealthy investor to buy into a Manhattan commercial building owned by his family’s company that was facing down a $1.2 billion debt.
Meetings that Kushner had that month with a Chinese insurance company and a Russian banker — as well as the company’s efforts to get funding from a Qatari source — are coming under new scrutiny after The Washington Post revealed that foreign government officials viewed him as a figure who might be manipulated due to the family company’s financial needs and his lack of experience.
Kushner divested his interest in 666 Fifth Avenue when he assumed his White House role as senior adviser, and his spokesman, Joshua Raffel, has said Kushner “would never compromise himself or the administration.”
But Kushner’s talks with foreign officials as the company continued searching for financial backing have raised questions. Foreign intercepts showed that four countries — the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico — viewed Kushner as a White House official who might be easily influenced because of the debt, The Post reported this week.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election, has reviewed Kushner’s financial dealings, including the meeting with the Russian banker, The Post reported in June.
In recent days, Kushner has been at the center of a White House controversy over his access to top-secret information while his security clearance was under review. White House officials said Tuesday that Kushner would henceforth have access at a lower level, but they gave no reason for the decision.
Kushner’s father, Charles, who helps run Kushner Cos. but has no title, told The Post in January that he had not been contacted by or had any document requests from Mueller’s office. Chris Taylor, a company spokeswoman, said in an interview that that remains the case.
But Kushner Cos. has been under scrutiny by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York in relation to its use of a foreign visa investment program, which was pitched to wealthy Chinese investors by Jared Kushner’s sister with a reference to his White House role. It also has turned over documents related to a $285 million loan the company received from Deutsche Bank a month before the election. It is unclear whether those documents have been shared with Mueller’s office.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the Kushner Cos. received loans from two firms whose executives met with Kushner in the White House. A White House official referred questions about the matter to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.
Kushner “has met with hundreds of business people during the campaign, transition and in the Administration,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Lowell, in a statement. “. . . He has had no role in the Kushner Companies since joining the government and has taken no part of any business, loans, or projects with or for the Companies after that.”
The loan arranged by Kushner for the 666 Fifth Avenue purchase has been a continuing concern for the family company. It traces back to Kushner’s decision 11 years ago to buy the nation’s most expensive commercial office building, a deal mired in financial trouble.
The company has said that the property represents only a fraction of its real estate interests, which include 20,000 residential apartments and 13 million square feet of commercial space.
Kushner bought 666 Fifth Avenue shortly after taking over the family company. His father had just gone to prison for federal tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering. Kushner reimagined the company, selling many of its New Jersey apartment buildings to buy the 41-story Manhattan office tower.
Kushner called the $1.8 billion purchase a “great acquisition,” but the 2007 real estate crash devalued the building and dried up commercial leasing. After a 2011 refinancing, Kushner and his company devised a redevelopment plan that would double the building’s size, and they began trying to empty the tower, which further hurt revenue.
The push was on to find deep-pocketed investors.
Kushner met in December 2016, while he was working with the Trump transition team, with officials of Anbang, a Chinese insurance company. The deal fell apart as Kushner moved to the White House.
Kushner, or representatives of his family firm, also met with a Qatari investment company, run by the country’s former prime minister and finance minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Tom Barrack, a Trump friend who had suggested that Thani consider investing in the Kushner property, has said Charles Kushner was “crushed” when his son got the White House job because that prompted the Qataris to pull out.
Jared Kushner also met on Dec. 13, 2016, with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who heads a state-affiliated bank known as VEB, for Vnesheconombank. The bank has said they talked about “promising business lines and sectors,” but Kushner told Congress that the family business was not discussed.
Although Kushner resigned from the company when he took the White House job and divested 666 Fifth Avenue, he retained properties and other assets worth $167.5 million to $569.5 million, according to his financial disclosure.
Potential conflicts arose, particularly when the company sought financing under the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to invest $500,000 in a property in exchange for U.S. visas.
Charles Kushner said in an interview that the company is no longer seeking funding from sovereign funds or the EB-5 program. The company is also exploring ways that it can keep control of 666 Fifth Avenue, including whether it can buy the 49.5 percent stake in the building’s office portion held by Vornado, a real estate firm run by Trump’s friend Steve Roth.
Roth has signaled that he plans to sell the company’s stake. Many analysts take Roth at his word.
“It’s not shocking that they just want out. Everyone knows the cash flow doesn’t cover the debt payments,” said Michael R. Lewis, a research director at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.
Others, however, view Kushner’s position as so dire that Vornado or another firm may try to take over the building.
Jonathan Morris, an adjunct professor of real estate at Georgetown University, said Roth may be posturing to see whether Kushner Cos. has the financial wherewithal to recapitalize the project, especially since Vornado is sitting on extra cash due to tax restructuring.
“The notion that he’s planning on selling his 49.5 percent to a third party is simply the first salvo in the PR strategy to get Kushner’s attention,” Morris said.
What’s more likely, Morris said, is that an investor — Vornado or another firm — moves to acquire some of the debt and take over the building by pushing Kushner Cos. toward foreclosure.
“The fate of 666 Fifth lies with the lenders and to what extent, and at what price, they will sell the debt,” he said. Vornado declined to comment.