Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 27 2017, 6:53 AM ET

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

The Russian banker Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with in December is viewed by U.S. intelligence as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies who was often tasked with sensitive financial operations by Putin, according to multiple U.S. officials and documents viewed by NBC News.

Sergey Gorkov, 48, graduated from the FSB Academy, which was chartered in 1994 to educate Russian Intelligence personnel. He has long served Russian President Vladimir Putin in critical economic roles. Most recently, Putin chose him to head of the state-owned VneshEconomBank (VEB). As the Russian state national development bank, VEB has played a critical role in blunting the impact of U.S. sanctions against Russia by finding other sources of foreign capital.

Before that, Gorkov was the deputy chairman of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, also state-owned, and also under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

Related: Jared Kushner Under Scrutiny in Russia Probe, Say Officials

NBC News reported Thursday that Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials. Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to the Russia probe, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.

It is not known what has drawn FBI scrutiny, but congressional aides have said they would like to question Kushner about a meeting Kushner had with Gorkov in December 2016. At the time, Kushner was an adviser to President-elect Trump and Gorkov was chairman of VEB.

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Sources: Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation 1:04

Both the White House and VEB confirm that Kushner and Gorkov met at a banking “road show” but haven’t disclosed either the location for the meeting or the specific date in December. Details of what they discussed have not been released, although Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner is prepared to cooperate with congressional investigators or the FBI if asked.

The White House subsequently characterized the meeting as part of Kushner’s role as a transition adviser and conduit for the State Department. But Gorkov in a written statement to Reuters, said it was a business meeting. According to Reuters, Gorkov met “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the U.S., including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

Related: Flynn, Manafort Are Key Figures in Russia Probe Mueller Will Lead

Gorkov is close to Putin, “a Putin crony,” as one official put it. Gorkov has also been awarded the “Certificate of Honor of the Government of the Russian Federation” and the “Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland,” both presented by Putin.

Putin has long called on former Soviet and Russian intelligence operatives to play critical roles in Russian political and economic life.

Image: Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, with her husband Jared Kushner, talk to Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during the inaugural luncheon in honor of President Donald Trump, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

“It is the talent pool [Putin] draws from,” said one U.S. official. “Because Gorkov is former FSB doesn’t mean that he still is, but Putin uses the security state — the FSB and military intelligence — as an extension of his rule.”

Sberbank and VEB, Gorkov’s two banks, have been critical to the Russian economy, but have also engaged in high-profile bailouts of Russian companies, including those owned by favored oligarchs. They have also played a major role in attempts to mitigate the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

VEB was sanctioned in July 2014, Sberbank two months later. The U.S. cited the banks’ record of securing medium- and long-term U.S. sources of financing. Sanctions severely limited their ability to raise funds in the U.S. The European Union later joined in the sanctions. The banks have responded by seeking funds from other sources, including China.

The U.S. did not cite any particular transactions when it sanctioned the bank, but said instead that Russia’s failure to meet “basic standards of international conduct” warranted onerous sanctions.

Gorkov was not sanctioned personally.

Image: Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017.
Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, is shown in this handout photo sitting on a commercial flight, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017. Reuters

Putin authorized a $22 billion of state financing for VEB to cover bad debts built up since the imposition of sanctions.

VEB was also implicated in an espionage case that began before Gorkov took over 2016 but continued after he took over.

One of its New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested on espionage charges in January 2015. According to court records reviewed by NBC News, Buryakov used his position to spy on unnamed U.S. companies, and sought information on high-frequency trading. Prosecutors said his internet searches included “NYC Homeland Security” and “New York City critical infrastructure.”

Buryakov claimed he had diplomatic immunity in his defense, which was paid by VEB, but after a court ruled he didn’t qualify, he pleaded guilty in March 2016. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. He returned to Russia last month after being released.

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME AND THE AP)

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(MARAWI, Philippines) — Philippine fighter aircraft unleashed rocket fire against militants on Saturday, prompting villagers to hoist white flags to avoid being targeted as the military turned to airstrikes to try to end the siege of a southern city by Islamic State group-allied militants.

The predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has been under siege since a failed army raid Tuesday on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Hapilon got away and fighters loyal to him took over parts of the city, burning buildings, taking cover in houses and seizing about a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest. Their condition remains unknown.

At least 48 people have died in the fighting, including 35 militants and 11 soldiers, officials say, adding that an unspecified number of civilians are feared to have died.

While up to 90 percent of Marawi’s people have fled amid the fighting, many who were trapped or refused to leave their homes have impeded military assaults, officials said. That has slowed efforts to end the most serious crisis President Rodrigo Duterte has faced since he took power nearly a year ago.

“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” the military said in a statement.

“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive,” it said. “Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city & to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”

The violence prompted Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism could be growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.

Hapilon’s group has received a “couple of million dollars” from the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters without elaborating Friday.

As air force planes and rocket-firing helicopters pounded militant positions on Saturday, fleeing residents waved white flags or hoisted them on their roofs to signify that they are not combatants.

“I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly,” Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed from a distant commercial area that was hit. “I pity the civilians and the women who were near the targeted area. They’re getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon.”

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said government forces are working to “clear the city of all remnants of this group.”

Some civilians refused to evacuate because they want to guard their homes, slowing down the government operations, he said.

“But that’s fine as long as civilians are not hurt,” Padilla said.

On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of “contamination” by the Islamic State group.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “contamination by ISIS” loomed in the country’s future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

“You can say that ISIS is here already,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr., a military commander, said about 150 trapped civilians have been rescued by troops from their homes, adding the militants were burning houses to distract troops. The gunmen were still holding out in two areas and soldiers have begun door-to-door searches.

As troops intensified their assaults, Galvez apologized to Muslim residents over the disruption during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Hapilon, who was recovering from wounds inflicted by an airstrike in January, is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to extricate him, said Philippine military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano. Hapilon has also suffered a mild stroke, he said.

Ano predicted that the military operation would take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners, including Indonesians and Malaysians, were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi.

Ano said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. “We suspect that, but we’re still validating,” he said.

Hapilon is one of the most senior commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which has a presence in Marawi and was instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon’s capture.

Bin Laden’s son steps into father’s shoes as al-Qaeda attempts a comeback

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Bin Laden’s son steps into father’s shoes as al-Qaeda attempts a comeback

May 27 at 6:10 PM
The voice is that of a soft-spoken 28-year-old, but the message is vintage Osama bin Laden, giving orders to kill. When the audio recording began turning up on jihadist websites two weeks ago, it was as if the dead terrorist was channeling himself through his favorite son.“Prepare diligently to inflict crippling losses on those who have disbelieved,” Hamza bin Laden, scion of the Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind, says in a thin baritone that eerily echoes his father. “Follow in the footsteps of martyrdom-seekers before you.”

The recording, first aired May 13, is one in a string of recent pronouncements by the man who many terrorism experts regard as the crown prince of al-Qaeda’s global network. Posted just two weeks before Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester, England, the message includes a specific call for attacks on European and North American cities to avenge the deaths of Syrian children killed in airstrikes.

The recording provides fresh evidence of ominous changes underway within the embattled organization that declared war against the West nearly two decades ago, according to U.S., European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials and terrorism experts. Decimated by U.S. military strikes and overshadowed for years by its terrorist rival, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda appears to be signaling the start of a violent new chapter in the group’s history, led by a new bin Laden — one who has vowed to seek revenge for his father’s death.

Encouraged by the Islamic State’s setbacks in Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda is making a play for the allegiance of the Islamic State’s disaffected followers as well as legions of sympathizers around the world, analysts say. The promotion of a youthful figurehead with an iconic family name appears to be a key element in a rebranding effort that includes a shift to Islamic State-style terrorist attacks against adversaries across the Middle East, Europe and North America.

“Al-Qaeda is trying to use the moment — [with] Daesh being under attack — to offer jihadists a new alternative,” said a Middle Eastern security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterterrorism assessments and using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “And what could be more effective than a bin Laden?”

Hamza bin Laden is hardly new to the Islamist militant world. His coronation as a terrorist figurehead has been underway since at least 2015, when longtime al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri introduced him in a video message as a “lion from the den” of bin Laden’s terrorist network. But in recent months, he has been promoted as a rising star on pro-al-Qaeda websites, with audio recordings from him urging followers to carry out attacks or commenting on current events. Longtime terrorism analysts say the promotion of Hamza bin Laden appears calculated to appeal to young Islamist militants who still admire Osama bin Laden but see al-Qaeda as outdated or irrelevant.

“Hamza is the most charismatic and potent individual in the next generation of jihadis simply because of his lineage and history,” said Bruce Riedel, who spent 30 years in the CIA and is now director of the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project. “At a time when Zawahiri and al-Baghdadi seem to be fading, Hamza is the heir apparent.” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the Islamic State’s leader.

But Hamza bin Laden is not advocating his father’s style of jihad. Osama bin Laden was notorious for his ambitious, carefully planned terrorist operations, directed by al-Qaeda’s generals and aimed at strategic targets. His son, by contrast, urges followers to seize any opportunity to strike at Jewish interests, Americans, Europeans and pro-Western Muslims, using whatever weapon happens to be available.

“It is not necessary that it should be a military tool,” he says in the May 13 recording. “If you are able to pick a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many.”

The faceless man

Strikingly, for a man who aspires to be the jihadist world’s next rock star, Hamza bin Laden insists on keeping most of his personal details hidden from public view. Even his face.

No confirmed photographs exist of the young terrorist since his boyhood, when he was portrayed multiple times as an adoring son posing with his famous father. He is believed to be married, with at least two children, and he lived for a time in the tribal region of northwestern Pakistan, although his whereabouts are unknown.

His refusal to allow his image to be published may reflect a well-founded concern about his personal safety, but it complicates the militants’ task of making him a terrorist icon, said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that monitors Islamist militancy on social media.

“People loyal to al-Qaeda and against the Islamic State are looking for inspiration, and they realize that he can provide it,” Stalinsky said. “But for today’s youth, you need more than audio and an old photograph.”

What is known about Hamza bin Laden comes from his numerous recordings as well as intelligence reports and scores of documents seized during the 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALS on Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Included in the document trove were personal letters from Hamza to his father, as well as written instructions from the elder bin Laden to his aides on how Hamza was to be educated and provided for.

The documents reveal a special bond between Hamza bin Laden and his father that persisted despite long periods of separation. The 15th of Osama bin Laden’s estimated 20 children, Hamza was the only son born to the terrorist’s third wife, and by some accounts his favorite, Khairiah Sabar, a Saudi woman whose family traces its lineage to the prophet Muhammad.

He spent his early childhood years with his parents, first in Saudi Arabia and later in Sudan and Afghanistan, where his father began to assemble the pieces of his worldwide terrorism network. A family friend who knew Hamza bin Laden as a child said he showed both promise and early flashes of ambition.

“He was a very intelligent and smart boy, very fond of horseback riding, like his father,” said the friend, a longtime associate of the al-Qaeda network, contacted through a social-media chat service. “While his parents wanted him to stay away from battlefields, he had arguments with them about it.”

Then came the 9/11 attacks, which brought the bin Ladens international notoriety and made Hamza’s father the world’s most wanted man. As U.S.-backed Afghan militias closed in on al-Qaeda’s mountain redoubt at Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dispatched several of his wives and children to Iran, believing that the Islamic republic’s leaders could offer protection from U.S. airstrikes.

Hamza rarely, if ever, saw his father after that. He was still in Iran in his early 20s, living under a kind of house arrest, when he wrote a long missive to his father complaining about his life “behind iron bars” and expressing a longing to join his father as a mujahid, or holy warrior, in his fight against the West, according to a copy of the letter found in bin Laden’s safe house.

“What truly makes me sad,” he wrote in 2009, “is the mujahideen legions have marched and I have not joined them.”

Iran allowed the bin Laden clan to leave the country the following year, and by the time of the 2011 Navy SEAL raid, Hamza’s mother and other family members were living at the elder terrorist’s Pakistan hideout. Notably absent from the Abbottabad compound was Hamza. On Osama bin Laden’s orders, aides had kept him in a separate hideout with the intention of sending him to Qatar to be educated, according to U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism officials. Already, the patriarch was beginning to see his son as a future al-Qaeda leader, judging from the letters he wrote to his aides shortly before his death.

“Hamza is one of the mujahideen, and he bears their thoughts and worries,” Osama bin Laden wrote in one such letter. “And at the same time, he can interact with the [Muslim] nation.”

Jihadist royalty

Hamza bin Laden’s sense of personal destiny only deepened with the death of his father and half brother Khalid at the hands of U.S. commandos.

By 2015, when Zawahiri introduced Hamza to the world as an al-Qaeda “lion,” the then-26-year-old already had the voice of a veteran Islamist militant, urging followers in an audio recording to inflict the “highest number of painful attacks” on Western cities, from Washington to Paris.

A year later, he delivered a more personal message intended as a tribute to his dead father. Titled “We are all Osama,” the 21-minute spoken essay included a vow for vengeance.

“If you think that the crime you perpetrated in Abbottabad has gone by with no reckoning, you are wrong,” he said. “Yours will be a harsh reckoning. We are a nation that does not rest over injustice.”

Terrorism analysts have noted several recurring themes in Hamza bin Laden’s audio postings that distinguish his Islamist militant philosophy from the views expressed by both his father and putative al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri. One difference: Unlike Zawahiri, Hamza bin Laden has eschewed overt criticism of the Islamic State, perhaps to avoid antagonizing any followers of that terrorist group who might be inclined to shift to al-Qaeda.

The bin Laden family friend suggested that the omission is deliberate, part of an effort to position Hamza bin Laden as a unifying figure for Islamist militants. The associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely, noted that Hamza bin Laden enjoys multiple advantages in this regard, as he can claim to be both a descendant of the prophet as well a son of jihadist royalty.

“The calculation is that it will be very difficult for the Daesh leadership to denounce Hamza, given who he is,” the family friend said.

The other distinction is Hamza bin Laden’s persistent calls for self-directed, lone-wolf attacks against a wide array of targets. Here, he appears to be borrowing directly from the playbook of the Islamic State, which has fostered a kind of Everyman’s jihad that does not depend on instructions or permission from higher-ups. His Internet postings have lauded Army psychiatrist and convicted Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 people in a rampage on the base in Texas in 2009; as well as the two Britons of Ni­ger­ian descent who hacked British soldier Lee Rigby to death on a street outside his London barracks in 2013.

None of those assailants were known al-Qaeda members. Yet, by applauding such attacks, Hamza bin Laden appears to associate himself with a more aggressive style of terrorism that appeals to young Islamist militants, analysts and experts said. Such messages also convey an impression of a terrorist network that, while battered, is far from defeated, said Bruce Hoffman, a former U.S. adviser on counterterrorism and director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

“He brings assurance that, even though al-Qaeda has been hammered in recent years, it’s still in good hands, with a junior bin Laden who is ideally situated to carry on the struggle,” Hoffman said. “Since a very young age, Hamza bin Laden wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. And from al-Qaeda’s perspective, now is the critical time for him to come of age and assume the reins of authority.”

Saudi Arabia warns Twitter and Facebook ‘rumour-mongers’ they risk death penalty

The Muslim Issue

Revealed: Saudi Arabia warns Twitter and Facebook ‘rumour-mongers’ they risk DEATH PENALTY in first ruling of its kind

  • The rules were announced by a government source to a state-run website
  • They claimed sites like Facebook and Twitter ’cause confusion in societies’
  • The punishments will range from a social media ban to the death penalty
  • It is the first rule of its kind although Saudi law does censor ‘mass media’

By Jay Akbar For Mailonline

Published: 16:13, 6 October 2015 |

Saudi Arabia has threatened to execute those who ‘spread rumours’ about the government on social media, a state-run website has reported.

It is the first time the Gulf nation, which has come under fire for issuing death penalties to protesters, has created a rule to punish ordinary people for what they say on Twitter and Facebook, human rights campaigners Reprieve told MailOnline.

There are already laws and departments to censor…

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Saudi Arabia to behead disabled man ‘for taking part in protests’

The Muslim Issue

Saudi Arabia to behead disabled man ‘for taking part in protests’ after ‘forced confession’

Campaigners believe the country’s authorities may be emboldened after Donald Trump failed to bring up human rights on recent visit

by Will Worley
The Independent

Saudi Arabia to behead disabled man 'for taking part in protests' after 'forced confession'

A court in Saudi Arabia has upheld a death sentence for a disabled man who was arrested after he attended a protest, campaigners have said.

Munir al-Adam, 23, was beaten so badly he lost hearing in one ear during demonstrations in the Shia dominated east of the country in 2012.

Human rights campaigners have slammed the decision, calling it “shocking” and demanding the White House intervenes.

Mr Adam was sentenced to death in a secretive trial in the country’s Specialised Criminal Court last year. Now, an appellate court has decided the sentence should be carried out, despite international criticism.

Mr Adam only has the opportunity to appeal the decision once more before King…

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Venice Reflected~

Oh Venice, you are so wonderful, and so overcrowded with tourists!


It is hard to fully appreciate you, amongst the hordes.


Avoiding the main tourist draws is the only way to be alone in Venice, and it is still quite a challenge to find quiet spots.


We were here in the first week in April and the crowds were significantly problematic. I can only imagine summertime.

I would recommend visiting Venice, if you want to, in the off-off season.


Several years ago we visited in winter and there were no crowds, even in Piazza San Marco. It is also much less expensive.

It is cold in winter, but so lovely to see Venice as she should be seen, in all her solitary glory, with locals who are actually happy to see you.

Cheers to you from amazing, but crowded Venice~

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Abgebrochen: Tali Sharot – Die Meinung der anderen: Wie sie unser Denken und Handeln bestimmt – und wie wir sie beeinflussen

Literaturblog von Nomadenseele

Ein Unternehmer überzeugt Investoren, Milliarden in ein windiges Biotechnologie-Startup zu stecken. Einem Arzt gelingt es nicht, seinen Patienten zu einer wichtigen Impfung zu bewegen. Was entscheidet also, ob uns das Denken anderer beeinflusst? Und wie beeinflussen wir die anderen? Die Psychologin und Neurowissenschaftlerin Tali Sharot findet anhand eigener Forschungsergebnisse verblüffende Antworten auf diese Fragen und analysiert die Hirnmechanismen, die hinter unseren Ansichten stecken. Sie zeigt, wie wir andere Menschen prägen können ― und von ihnen geprägt werden.

Wir nehmen ständig Einfluss auf andere Menschen: im Klassenzimmer, in der Teamsitzung oder in den Sozialen Medien. Und wir werden beeinflusst – meist unbewusst und mehr als uns lieb ist. Anhand eigener psychologischer, neurowissenschaftlicher und verhaltensökonomischer Forschungen belegt Tali Sharot, dass wir dieses Wechselspiel kaum durchschauen: Allzu oft sind wir steinzeitlichen Instinkten und Reflexen unterworfen – und daher zum Scheitern verdammt, wenn wir andere zu etwas bewegen wollen. Doch Sharot zeigt auch, wie…

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Heidelberg Reflected~


on the mirrored face,


of the river Neckar,

as sunlight fades,

in a peaceful town,

in Germany.

Cheers to you from Heidelberg at Sunset~

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A high-stakes gamble: How Jared Kushner reacted to previous crises

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A high-stakes gamble: How Jared Kushner reacted to previous crises

 
May 27 at 5:38 PM
Jared Kushner had barely survived a fight to save his family’s real estate empire.Taking charge of the business after his father went to prison, Kushner, 25 at the time, paid $1.8 billion in 2007 for the nation’s most expensive office building. Then the market went south, the debts piled up, and Kushner spent years pushing banks to renegotiate the loans.

But after one disgruntled lender had tried to block him, Kushner had an unusual weapon at his disposal: He owned a newspaper.

Kushner, who had purchased the New York Observer in 2006, walked into his editor’s office and suggested a story exposing potentially embarrassing details about the uncooperative lender.

“I could tell he was angry at the guy,” said the editor, Elizabeth Spiers, who resigned in 2012. Only after months of dead-end reporting did Kushner finally stop asking for the story, she said. That followed a separate incident in which Kushner wanted a “hit job” on another foe, a second Observer editor told The Washington Post.

Kushner’s career in the cutthroat world of New York real estate shows how he dealt with his worst business crisis, averting catastrophe through connections, savvy negotiation and hardball tactics that left enemies in his wake. Kushner was not reticent to strike back against those he said had crossed him.

Now, as a powerful senior White House adviser, Kushner faces a new crisis that risks not only his own reputation but ultimately, the success of his father-in-law President Trump, who has entrusted him with responsibilities ranging from Middle East diplomacy to reinventing the federal government.

A federal investigation has focused on Kushner’s secret meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s 2016 campaign. The Post reported Friday that Kushner discussed with the Russian ambassador the possibility of establishing back-channel communications with the Kremlin, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Kushner’s attorneys have said he will cooperate with the federal investigation and answer questions from a special counsel examining allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, a probe that could also examine financial connections Trump advisers may have had with Russia. Kushner declined comment.

Kushner’s allies said his experience in New York’s aggressive business culture prepared him to manage crises and tackle any problem Trump gives him to solve.

But running a real estate company, where business deals and corporate rivalries stem from the singular goal of turning the biggest profits, is far different from navigating the vast federal government or mastering the tricky politics of Washington and complexities of overseas diplomacy.

Play Video 2:18
Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret channel with Kremlin
Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Trump has relied on Kushner as the president makes his own transition from the business world. And just as Trump has struggled to adapt, Kushner is adjusting with the lessons of the past decade in mind, saying privately that he sees a parallel between his old and new careers, believing both are blood sports.

***

Kushner’s real estate career began with a family trauma. His father, Charles, a major Democratic Party donor whose company then focused on modest apartment buildings in New Jersey, was convicted in 2005 of federal tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations, including some in Jared Kushner’s name.

The prosecutor was then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who said the elder Kushner had not taken responsibility for his “vile and heinous acts.” (Christie’s prosecution scarred the family, Kushner associates told The Post. The wound reopened during the Trump campaign, when White House officials said the younger Kushner helped quash consideration of Christie for an administration role). Christie did not respond to a request for comment.

Jared Kushner was studying law at New York University as the case generated wide attention because of its scandalous details. Charles Kushner had arranged to secretly videotape his brother-in-law meeting with a prostitute, allegedly hoping to coerce relatives to stop cooperating with federal authorities. The judge called it an act of vengeance.

Kushner told New York magazine in 2009 that his father arranged for the sex tape as a warning to warring family members who he said were trying to hurt him.

“Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying, ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable. Well, I’m doing the same,’ ” Kushner said.

With his father incarcerated in Alabama, barred from making business deals, Jared Kushner, the eldest son, took over the empire. It had 1,000 employees and owned more than 25,000 apartments. The family’s reputation was in tatters.

“A lot of their friends and business colleagues just disappeared,” said Arthur J. Mirante II, a business consultant who advised the Kushners.

Kushner went to Alabama every week to consult his father. He came up with two risky moves. In 2006, he bought an unprofitable newspaper, the New York Observer, for a reported $10 million. The newspaper, a broadsheet printed on pink paper, aggressively covered New York business and politics. It had been especially hard on real estate titan Donald Trump, calling him the “prince of swine,” according to former columnist Michael Thomas.

Kushner’s newspaper ownership gave him entree to the city’s powerful. Kushner by then had relocated the company to Manhattan, and he added to his allure by announcing in January 2007 a deal that shocked many real estate analysts.

He agreed to pay $1.8 billion for a 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Ave., only blocks from Trump Tower, the highest price paid at the time for a U.S. office building. Kushner called it “a great acquisition,” but some real estate veterans saw it as an act of hubris. Income projections suggested that Kushner had vastly overpaid — and that was months before the Great Recession further softened the market.

Within three years, Kushner’s project was drowning. A 2010 appraisal placed its value at $820 million, about half of what he paid, and well below his debt to banks, according to financial records. As the recession set in, office rents plunged, and his building’s occupancy rate dropped from nearly full to 77 percent in 2011, according to lending documents.

Bankers turned to LNR, a Florida firm that handles distressed real estate debt as a precursor to possible foreclosure. LNR represented the banks in their effort to collect Kushner’s obligations.

That created extraordinary pressure on Kushner to negotiate with LNR to reduce his debt burden. But that, in turn, meant some banks and investors might be paid less than expected. A battle began between Kushner and the companies that helped finance his risky purchase. LNR declined comment.

One of the biggest debt holders was Colony Capital, which owned $72.2 million, according to analysts’ estimates. The company was run by Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a Trump friend. Barrack had worked for an oil baron who sold the iconic Plaza Hotel to Trump for $410 million, which Trump later acknowledged was too high, eventually forcing him to put the property into bankruptcy. The two men nonetheless remained close; Barrack had a speaking role at the Republican National Convention and headed Trump’s inaugural committee.

Kushner mentioned to his wife, Ivanka Trump — whom he married in 2009 — that Barrack was going after him on the debt. She told him that her father was close to Barrack, and so Donald Trump introduced Kushner to Barrack, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Barrack was concerned, but Kushner argued that lowering his obligation was better than foreclosure. “I’m asking you to make more money for yourself than you’ll make otherwise,” Kushner told Barrack, according to the person familiar with the conversation. Barrack did not respond to a request for comment.

A company run by another Trump associate, Steven Roth, chief executive and chairman of office giant Vornado Realty Trust, bought 49.5 percent of the project and helped run it. Roth is partners with Trump on other buildings and was chosen by the president to run a committee that will recommend how to spend federal money on infrastructure projects. Both Vornado and Roth declined comment.

At the same time, one of Kushner’s most severe challenges was dealing with a New York company called AREA Property Partners, which held $105.4 million of Kushner’s debt, according to industry estimates based on lending documents. Its chief executive, Richard Mack, objected to Kushner’s debt-relief requests. Mack declined comment.

Ultimately, Kushner made a deal with LNR to ease his debt burden and allow him to retain majority control. The agreement allowed Kushner to pay off some loans immediately, lowered his payment rate and extended the deadline on the bulk of the debt for two years, to February 2019. The initial $1.2 billion mortgage was split in two, with $115 million of what he owed subjugated by Kushner’s position so that banks may ultimately have to write it off, according to financial filings.

Such restructurings are not unusual for owners facing extensive real estate debt. But Kushner’s negotiations to protect his family’s investment left some hard feelings. A lender involved in the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations, told The Post he was upset because Kushner did little to protect his lenders. The lender said the various renegotiations could cost banks and investors hundreds of millions of dollars compared with what was originally expected.

“They could have taken steps to mitigate the damage,” the lender said.

But Kushner viewed it as a hardball business deal and showed that he was a tough negotiator, according to an individual familiar with his perspective.

Sources familiar with the arrangement said the Kushner family got back most of its $500 million investment.

Kushner divested himself of his interest in 666 Fifth Ave. when he joined the administration, although he kept stakes in about 90 percent of his real estate holdings, valued between $132 million and $407 million. He resigned from the family business and pledged a clear ethical divide. But ethics experts say his remaining business ties — many in partnerships and LLCs that cannot be easily traced — call for fuller disclosure.

His admirers in real estate say Kushner has never made deals in traditional ways, although he is quick to seek counsel.

Sandeep Mathrani, the chief executive of shopping mall giant General Growth Properties, said he has been periodically offering Kushner advice since the young developer asked to meet with him almost a decade ago.

“I think Jared got into the real estate business to redeem the reputation of the Kushner family, and I think he has definitely done that in the New York circles,” Mathrani said.

“Jared was always hungry for creative new ideas and not saying ‘This is the way we’ve done things for generations.’ Which is cool because a lot of people in real estate families, that’s how they behave,” said Asher Abehsera, a Kushner partner in a high-end project under development in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.

***

Kushner had never shied away from hardball tactics, and as a newspaper owner, he had a media vehicle to spread negative information.

One editor of the Observer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing a private conversation, said Kushner wanted a negative story on a banker who was at odds with the family business. The editor recalled Kushner saying: “We have to do a hit job on this guy. He is a bad guy.”

“I said, ‘Jared, first off, never use the phrase ‘hit job.’ We can’t use that term. And second, there’s no story here,” the editor said.

A similar episode occurred with Spiers, the former editor who said Kushner offered a tip that cast Mack, the lender from AREA Property Partners, in a bad light.

Mainstream media organizations generally try to maintain editorial independence from their owners, so Spiers was concerned that Kushner was hoping to use the paper to punish an antagonist.

Spiers said Kushner urged her to pursue the tip, which included information about Mack’s business affairs. Spiers, who previously had founded the website Gawker, told The Post she had already determined that Kushner seemed to want to use the paper to advance his business interests.

“Jared didn’t buy the paper because he was interested in journalism. He bought the paper because it was a mechanism to gain influence in New York,” Spiers said. “He was angry at the media because he thought the media was partly responsible for his father going to jail.”

She said she told Kushner that “you realize if we did this story, if anything is wrong, even by accident, he has a malice precondition, and Jared didn’t know what I was talking about.” A public official who sues for libel must show that the publication had “actual malice” against the subject of the story.

Spiers gave the tip to two reporters, but they could not substantiate it. Kushner insisted on meeting with the reporters twice and brought in a source to speak with them, according to Foster Kamer, one of the reporters. Still, it could not be confirmed.

Kamer said that Kushner had put him in an improper position.

“To Jared, it was such a benign thing, and to myself, it was just one of the most deeply offensive . . . things that had ever happened to me professionally,” Kamer said.

In the end, the reporters and Spiers convinced Kushner that the tip did not check out, and no story was published.

“I think it took a year off my life to pursue that story,” Spiers said. “Every meeting I had with him, he asked, ‘So how’s that story coming?’ ”

Kushner was asked in March 2016 at a forum how he managed conflicts between his real estate business and the Observer. He brushed off the question.

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“If you don’t want conflicts, just go into your apartment and lock the door, don’t go to work, don’t do anything,” he said. “But as it comes up, you trust people to do the right things, and we found that we really haven’t had any issues.”

An associate defended Kushner by saying the newspaper owner spent less than 1 percent of his time on the Observer and was not involved in daily operations. As Kushner gave less attention to his newspaper, he hired a close friend, Ken Kurson, to become editor in 2013.

Kurson, who announced this past week that he was stepping down from his Observer job, said in an interview that those “who poke fun at the enormous portfolio” Kushner has at the White House fail to appreciate what he has gone through during the past decade — and what he means to Trump.

“It overlooks, first of all, the complexity and depth of what he has achieved in his business career,” Kurson said of Kushner. “It overlooks the major factor of how leaders select their teams. It is trust.”

Amy Brittain contributed to this report.

UK PM May’s lead narrows after Manchester attack placing landslide win in doubt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

UK PM May’s lead narrows after Manchester attack placing landslide win in doubt

By Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden | LONDON

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s lead over the opposition Labour Party has narrowed sharply, according to five opinion polls published since the Manchester attack, suggesting she might not win the landslide predicted just a month ago.

Four opinion polls published on Saturday showed that May’s lead had contracted by a range of 2 to 6 percentage points, indicating the June 8 election could be much tighter than initially thought when she called the snap vote.

“Theresa May is certainly the overwhelming favorite to win but crucially we are in the territory now where how well she is going to win is uncertain,” John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, told Reuters.

“She is no longer guaranteed to get the landslide majority that she was originally setting out to get,” said Curtice, a leading psephologist who is president of the British Polling Council.

May called the snap election in a bid to strengthen her hand in negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union, to win more time to deal with the impact of the divorce and to strengthen her grip on the Conservative Party.

But if she does not handsomely beat the 12-seat majority her predecessor David Cameron won in 2015, her electoral gamble will have failed and her authority could be undermined just as she enters formal Brexit negotiations.

Sterling on Friday suffered its steepest fall since January after a YouGov opinion poll showed the lead of May’s Conservatives over Labour was down to 5 percentage points.

LANDSLIDE IN QUESTION?

When May stunned politicians and financial markets on April 18 with her call for a snap election, opinion polls suggested she could emulate Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 majority of 144 seats or even threaten Tony Blair’s 1997 Labour majority of 179 seats.

But polls had shown May’s rating slipping over the past month and they fell sharply after she set out plans on May 18 to make some elderly people pay a greater share of their care costs, a proposal dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ by opponents.

As her lead shrank, May was forced to backtrack on the policy at an appearance before the media on Monday at which she appeared flustered and irritated when taking questions from reporters.

Campaigning was suspended for several days after the Manchester attack but resumed on Friday.

Polls since the attack showed little evidence that May – who as a former interior minister oversaw the police and domestic intelligence agency – had gained support.

“The campaign has changed,” Johnny Heald, managing director of ORB International, said. “Expect to see a forensic focus on Brexit and security over the next two weeks.”

Opinium said May’s lead had slipped to 10 percentage points, down from 13 points the week before and from 19 percentage points on April 19. Its online survey of 2,002 people was carried out between May 23 and 24.

ComRes said the lead of May’s Conservatives had fallen to 12 percentage points in an online poll of 2,024 carried out May 24-26, from 18 percentage points in a comparable poll on May 13.

ORB said May’s lead had halved to 6 percentage points, according to an online poll carried out May 24-25.

A YouGov survey of 2,003 people between May 25-26 showed May’s lead had narrowed 7 percentage points from nine a week ago.

The polls painted a complicated picture of public opinion, with Britons’ current voting intentions being influenced by both the deadly Manchester attack and May’s unpopular social care proposals.

Conservative election strategist, Lynton Crosby, has ordered a return to May’s main message: that only Theresa May can be trusted to negotiate Brexit, The Sunday Times reported.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones and Michael Holden)

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