Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

(ONE HABITUAL LIAR DICTATING LIES FOR ANOTHER HABITUAL LIAR SO THEY CAN TRY TO KEEP THE LIES THEY ARE TELLING TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE STRAIGHT, PATHETIC.)(TRS)

Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

 Play Video 2:00
President Trump personally intervened to write Donald Trump Jr. statement
President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
 July 31 at 7:46 PM
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

President-elect Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a cover up.

“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

Trump has already come under criticism for steps he has taken to challenge and undercut the Russia investigation.

He fired FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9 after a private meeting in which Comey said the president asked him if he could end the investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates that Trump asked him in March if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on Flynn. In addition, Trump has repeatedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescuing himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russian investigation — a decision that was one factor leading to the appointment of Mueller. And he has privately discussed his power to issue pardons, including for himself, and explored potential avenues for undercutting Mueller’s work.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

Trump has said that the Russia investigation is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain why Clinton lost an election she should have won.

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

The White House directed all questions for this article to the president’s legal team.

One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from The Post.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

Trump Jr. did not respond to requests for comment. His attorney, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the meeting, what led up to it and what was discussed.

Asked about Trump intervening, Futerfas said, “I have no evidence to support that theory.” He described the process of drafting a statement as “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One.

Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said.

“The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,” Zeidenberg said. “They are still treating this like a family run business and they have a PR problem. . . . What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.”

Advocating for transparency

The debate about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting began weeks before any news organizations began to ask questions about it.

Kushner’s legal team first learned about the meeting when doing research to respond to congressional requests for information. Congressional investigators wanted to know about any contacts the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian officials or business people.

Kushner’s lawyers came across what they immediately recognized would eventually become a problematic story. A string of emails showed Kushner attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign — one he had failed to disclose. Trump Jr. had arranged it, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had also attended.

To compound what was, at best, a public relations fiasco, the emails, which had not yet surfaced publicly, showed Trump Jr. responding to the prospect of negative information on Clinton from Russia: “I love it.”

Lawyers and advisers for Trump, his son and son-in-law gamed out strategies for disclosing the information to try to minimize the fallout of these new links between the Trump family and Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Hicks and Raffel declined to comment. Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell also declined to comment.

The president’s outside legal team, led by Marc Kasowitz, had suggested that the details be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump. Circa had inquired in previous days about the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.

Kasowitz declined to comment for this article, as did a Circa spokesman.

Consensus overruled

Circumstances changed when the New York Times began asking about the Trump Tower meeting, though advisers believed that the newspaper knew few of the details. While the president, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were attending the G-20 summit in Germany, the Times asked for White House comment on the impetus and reason for the meeting.

During breaks away from the summit, Kushner and Ivanka Trump gathered with Hicks and Raffel to discuss Kushner’s response to the inquiry, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Kushner’s legal team joined at times by phone.

Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

The discussions among the president’s advisers consumed much of the day, and they continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.

The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times. It was four sentences long, describing the encounter as a “short, introductory meeting.”

“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” the statement read.

Trump Jr. went on to say: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump family advisers and lawyers about the statement that Trump Jr. had sent to the Times.

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Some lawyers for the president and for Kushner were surprised and frustrated, advisers later learned. According to people briefed on the dispute, some lawyers tried to reach Futerfas and their clients and began asking why the president had been involved.

Also on the flight, Kushner worked with his team — including one of his lawyers, who called in to the plane.

His lawyers have said that Kushner’s initial omission of the meeting was an error, but that in an effort to be fully transparent, he had updated his government filing to include “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr.” Kushner’s legal team referred all questions about the meeting itself to Trump Jr.

The Times’ story revealing the existence of the June 2016 meeting was posted online about 4 p.m. Eastern time. Roughly four hours later, Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews. Trump’s family members and advisers departed the plane, and they knew the problem they had once hoped to contain would soon grow bigger.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

No Ethics At The White House From The Top Down: Federal Ethics Chief Resigns

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Federal ethics chief who clashed with White House announces he will step down

 Play Video 2:34
One of Trump’s most persistent ethics critics just resigned
The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., announced his resignation on July 6. Here’s a look at Shaub’s battles with the Trump administration. (Video: Monica Akhtar, Jenny Starrs/Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
 July 6 at 2:10 PM
The director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, who has been the federal government’s most persistent critic of the Trump administration’s approach to ethics, announced Thursday that he is resigning nearly six months before his term is scheduled to end.Walter M. Shaub Jr. repeatedly challenged the Trump administration, publicly urging President Trump to fully divest from his business empire and chastising a senior Trump adviser for violating ethics rules. His outspokenness drew the ire of administration officials and earned him near-cult status among Trump’s opponents. Fans started a Facebook page in his honor, and his name has occasionally appeared on posters at anti-Trump protests.

Shaub made no reference to those clashes in a resignation letter he posted Thursdayindicating he will step down July 19. Instead, he praised the work of federal ethics officials, pointedly noting their commitment to “protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.”

In an interview, Shaub said he was not leaving under pressure, adding that no one in the White House or the administration pushed him to leave. But the ethics chief said he felt that he had reached the limit of what he could achieve in this administration, within the current ethics framework.

“It’s clear that there isn’t more I could accomplish,” he said.

Shaub is set to take a new job as senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group founded by Trevor Potter, who served as a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission. Shaub said he hopes to find bipartisan solutions to strengthening government ethics programs at the federal and state levels.

“In working with the current administration, it has become clear that we need to strengthen the ethics program,” he said.

Created in 1978, the ethics office is designed to promote and protect laws intended to prevent conflicts of interest by government officials. The office offers ethics guidance and training for government officials and oversees employees’ annual disclosure of personal finances, but it has limited enforcement authority.

Directors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate to five-year terms — a length of time intended to give the office independence by ensuring director’s terms overlap presidential administrations.

Shaub’s departure is likely to spur a sense of anxiety among ethics officials and critics of the president who viewed him as one of the few federal officials who had been willing to speak out when he viewed the administration departing from past ethics norms. Trump allies cast him as a grandstander and noted he had been appointed by President Barack Obama.

Upon Shaub’s departure, the ethics office’s chief of staff, Shelley K. Finlayson, is expected to assume the role of acting director, although Trump could appoint another senior OGE official to serve temporarily until he chooses a permanent replacement. In 2014, Shaub described Finlayson as “a tireless advocate for OGE’s mission” and praised “her reliably cool judgment.”

Shaub, who before his appointment had served in other roles at OGE and as a lawyer at other federal agencies dating to 1997, was named OGE’s director by Obama in 2013 and had been scheduled to serve until January.

Norman Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under Obama, called Shaub “one of the great public servants of the executive branch.”

“He clearly feels that given this administration’s failings that there is no more that he can do,” Eisen said, adding, “In his own understated and nonpartisan way, this is a protest resignation.”

Shaub’s willingness to challenge the Trump administration was apparent even before Inauguration Day.

The first sign that he would be outspoken with his concerns came on the morning of Nov. 30, when the official OGE Twitter account erupted in a storm of nine tweets sent over three minutes that appeared to mimic Trump’s bombastic tweeting style, urging the president-elect to separate himself from his business.

“.@realDonaldTrump OGE is delighted that you’ve decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!” read one tweet.

“.@realDonaldTrump OGE applauds the ‘total’ divestiture decision. Bravo!” read another.

Trump had in fact made no such decision. The tweets appeared designed to use Trump’s own tactics of praise and flattery to urge him do so. Internal OGE emails later released through public information requests showed that Shaub himself had drafted the notes and directed that they be sent.

When Trump announced on Jan. 11 that he would retain ownership of his business, merely transferring management to his adult sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., Shaub aired his concerns in an unusually public address at the Brookings Institution. He denounced the plan as “wholly inadequate” and insisted Trump should place his assets in a fully blind trust over which his family would have no control, to prevent him from making money from decisions he enacted as president.

“The ethics program starts at the top,” he said. “We can’t risk creating the perception that government officials will use their positions for personal profit.”

In March, Shaub chided the White House over its failure to discipline senior aide Kellyanne Conway after she urged viewers on Fox News to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” a reference to the apparel line owned by the president’s daughter. Federal law prohibits government employees from endorsing brands or products.

The White House said Conway had been speaking in a “light, off-hand manner” and was unlikely to violate the rule again. In a letter, Shaub responded that failing to take action against a senior official risked “undermining the ethics program.”

More recently, Shaub has clashed with the White House over his efforts to gather data about former lobbyists and other federal appointees who had been granted waivers to ethics rules allowing them to interact with their former employers while serving in the White House or at federal agencies.

The Office of Management and Budget had tried to block Shaub’s request for copies of the waivers, prompting him to pen a scathing 10-page letter refusing to back down, writing that the OGE expected federal agencies to comply with the request. “Public confidence in the integrity of government decision making demands no less,” Shaub wrote.

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Ultimately, the White House released the documents as Shaub had demanded. They showed 17 appointees had been granted waivers to ethics rules to allow them to serve in the White House, including four lobbyists.

But Shaub has continued to agitate over the issue, particularly an undated and unsigned waiver allowing all White House officials to interact with the news media. The ruling means that chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon can communicate with editors at Breitbart, the conservative publication he used to run.

“There’s no such thing as a retroactive waiver,” Shaub said last month, promising to keep pressing the White House on the issue.

Shaub said Thursday said that his new post at the Campaign Legal Center would provide a platform to work on improving ethics rules in a nonpartisan environment, adding that he did not want to lose the opportunity by waiting until the end of his term.

In a statement, Potter said that it is imperative to “sustain a culture of high ethical standards in our government” and that Shaub would help the group “protect and improve our democracy.”

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.

Ivanka Trump makes ‘deeply meaningful’ visit to Western Wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ivanka Trump makes ‘deeply meaningful’ visit to Western Wall

Ivanka Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Western Wall.

Story highlights

  • Ivanka Trump visited the Western Wall on Monday
  • She is traveling with the President

(CNN) President Donald Trump made history on Monday when he became the first sitting president to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. But the trip was also “deeply meaningful” for daughter Ivanka, who appeared to cry as she visited the wall.

The Western Wall sits in Jerusalem’s Old City, which was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. There are separate areas for men and women’s prayer.
Accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and the Rabbi of the Western Wall’s wife, Yael Rabinovich, Ivanka Trump solemnly placed her hand on the women’s area of the Western Wall for a full minute. She smiled as she walked back toward the women and appeared to wipe away a tear, looking visibly touched by the experience.
“I am grateful to have experienced a deeply meaningful visit to the holiest site of my faith and to leave a private note of prayer,” she posted on social media shortly after the visit.
The President’s eldest daughter converted to Judaism ahead of her 2009 wedding to Jared Kushner, and previously visited Jerusalem in 2010. She and her husband are practicing Modern Orthodox Jews.
She has spoken about her faith very rarely.
“We’re pretty observant, more than some, less than others. I just feel like it’s such an intimate thing for us,” she told Vogue in 2015. “It’s been such a great life decision for me. I am very modern, but I’m also a very traditional person, and I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition in how I was raised as well. I really find that with Judaism, it creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”
She also wrote about observing Sabbath from sundown Friday to Saturday night in her book, “Women Who Work.”
“During this time, we disconnect completely — no emails, no TV, no phone calls, no Internet. We enjoy uninterrupted time together and it’s wonderful. In addition to being a sacred part of our religion, we live in such a fast-paced world that it’s enormously important to unplug and devote that time to each other,” she said.
Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia with her father, stepmother, and key advisers. She will also travel with the group to Rome, Italy, later this week.

President Trump Says Goodbye To Saudi Arabia: Next Stop, Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

NBC’s Bill Neely Trump Trip Notebook: So Long, Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump’s remarkable visit to Saudi Arabia ended as it began: with warm applause from Saudi leaders who displayed real pride in the fact that an American president chose the religious center of the Muslim world as the first stop on his first trip abroad.

Political leaders proclaimed a new era, Saudis gushed at the “elegantly respectful” look of first lady Melania Trump, analysts hailed the biggest arms deal in American history while Sunday newspapers praised the renewal of “this natural American-Muslim alliance” that in the 1980s had fought “successfully against atheism and communism.”

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Highlights From Trump’s Address to the Muslim World

There is something remarkable too about the leader of the Western world speaking in the city where Osama bin Laden was born. A New Yorker, Trump, addressing Muslims in the country where 11 of the 19 terrorists of the September 11th attacks were born.

Yet here he was urging more than 40 Muslim leaders to unite to “drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists … drive them out of this earth.”

This, he said, is a battle between good and evil and urged Muslim countries had to “fulfill their part of the burden” — not just wait for American intervention.

But there was none of the inflammatory language typical of domestic Trump. He did not use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he has specifically used several times before and which is considered offensive by many. In fact, he said he was “not here to lecture” the Muslim leaders, or to impose an American way of life.

Image: Trump, King Salman, al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought
President Donald Trump, Melania Trump, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

At the final major event of his visit — a conference on social media and countering terrorism — the president’s schedule got squeezed and he had to leave the speaking to his daughter Ivanka.

“This young generation is a generation that can build a future of tolerance, of hope and of peace,” she said. “And that’s what this last day has been around: tolerance and hope and peace.”

Still, there is a definite security threat here and it’s clear it’s being taken seriously: Every major road in Riyadh is lined with troops and police.

But surrounded by huge photographs of himself in a city dripping in gold, while making deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars — Trump may have felt he was in a special but familiar place.

Everywhere you look in Central Riyadh there are giant images of Trump and the Saudi King side by side. “Together,” they proclaim, “we will prevail,” a slogan that boats of a renewed military and economic bond between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. An alliance against rivals in Iran and threats from ISIS.

Here, all is apparently forgiven. They have forgotten Candidate Trump, who railed against Muslims on the campaign trail, and even Early President Trump, who tried to push through a ban on Muslims entering America. Now they have Best Friend Trump, who sees in the Saudis an opportunity to make money and buy peace in the region.

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Trump: ‘We Are Not Here to Lecture,’ But to Offer Partnership0:43

There are similarities between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The rulers of the Desert Kingdom are a family, the al-Sauds — King Salman and his many Princes. They do business in the billions of dollars but often in a personal, traditionally Arab way.

That’s been Trump’s way too, and he’s done business here in the desert through his family. The arms deal the two countries have signed, worth at least 100 billion dollars, was done with the help of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He amazed a visiting Saudi delegation at the White House earlier this year by picking up the phone to the boss of Lockheed Martin and haggling over the price of weapons the Saudis found too expensive.

There’s even quiet talk here of his next stop, Israel, as well as the common enemy shared by Saudis, Gulf Arabs and Israelis: Iran.

Image: King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump take part in a group photo at the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

President Trump ‘quietly’ Signs Law To Prevent Federal Money Going To ‘Abortion’ Clinics

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump privately signed a bill on Thursday that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood, a group frequently targeted by Republicans.

The bill, which the usually camera-friendly President signed without any media present, reverses an Obama-era regulation that prohibited states from withholding money from facilities that perform abortions, arguing that many of these facilities also provide other family planning and medical services.
The bulk of federal money Planned Parenthood receives, though, goes toward preventive health care, birth control, pregnancy tests and other women’s health services. Federal law prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortions and Planned Parenthood says 3% of the services it provides are abortions.
The signing comes weeks after Vice President Mike Pence, a social conservative who regularly touts his anti-abortion stances, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate after two Republicans opposed the measure.
“(Women’s) worst fears are now coming true. We are facing the worst political attack on women’s health in a generation as lawmakers have spent the past three months trading away women’s health and rights at every turn,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.

Ivanka Trump’s influence

The law once again raises questions about the power Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and aide, actually wields inside the West Wing. The first daughter met with president of Planned Parenthood shortly after her father was inaugurated in an attempt to better understand the group that is regularly targeted by Republicans. She has also cultivated an image of a moderating force inside the White House.
The President has even said Ivanka Trump would be his guide on women’s health issues.
“Ivanka is so much into that whole issue of women’s health and women,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with Fox News. “And she’s my guide on that whole subject.”

fight to save obamacare marquez pkg ac_00000415

 What is being done to save Obamacare?

But the first daughter has been hesitant about publicly speaking about her views on abortion, despite saying she would be an advocate for women’s health inside the White House.
“I don’t talk about my politics,” she told Boston Public Radio in 2016. “I don’t feel like it’s my role … I’m the daughter. I don’t think my politics are relevant to the discussion.”
What is clear is that the meeting with Planned Parenthood — and whatever information Trump took away from it — did not sway her father’s administration, which has since targeted the organization. The Republican health care bill, which was fully backed by the White House, would have defunded Planned Parenthood.
Democratic organizations blasted the bill on Thursday.
“Stripping millions of Americans of the critical health care services that Planned Parenthood provides doesn’t just hurt women — it hurts entire families and their economic security,” said Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, a Democratic political action committee. “This is just one more example of Donald Trump’s White House and this Republican Congress taking every single opportunity to chip away at women’s rights, and we won’t stand for it.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the signing a “a major pro-life victory.”

Senator Santorum Tells Journalist Chris Cuomo The Truth About Anti-Semitism: Cuomo Can’t Accept Truth?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Santorum: Anti-Semitism also comes from pro-Palestinian, Muslim community

Santorum: Anti-Semitic acts coming from Muslims 01:49

Story highlights

  • Rick Santorum argued with the CNN anchor over who is responsible for a spate of anti-Semitism
  • 48 Jewish centers were threatened in January

(CNN)Former Sen. Rick Santorum clashed with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo on Tuesday morning over who is responsible for a rash of anti-Semitic acts since Inauguration Day.

“If you look at the fact of the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we’re seeing, I hate to say it, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian or Muslim community,” said the former Republican senator and presidential candidate. “So let’s just lay out that fact.”
Cuomo, however, took issue with Santorum’s characterization of the menace, which has taken the form of numerous threats on Jewish Community Centers across the nation.
“I don’t know that that’s a fact, by the way,” Cuomo said. “[Y]ou have white haters historically … who target the Jews in this country.”
“That’s not what’s going on college campuses, Chris, white haters,” replied Santorum. “Let’s say the truth about this.”
In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to the Jewish Community Center Association. Most were made in rapid succession on three days: January 9, 18 and 31. A number of JCCs, including Orlando’s, received multiple threats.
On Monday, another wave of bomb threats hit 11 JCCs across the country, bringing the total to 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states, according to the JCCA.
Trump has faced calls from Democrats and Jewish leaders urging him to speak out against the rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
On Tuesday, while speaking at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, he said, “This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
In a separate interview with MSNBC he said, “I will tell you anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.”
Also on Monday, Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, tweeted: “America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC”.
She was the first member of the Trump family to comment on the bomb threats.
Later in the conversation with Santorum, Cuomo asked why the Trump administration wasn’t doing more to directly address the threats, which have shaken much of the nation’s Jewish community.
“You guys have no problem going after Muslims for things they don’t do, let alone what they do. So why doesn’t Trump go after the Muslims who are doing this on college campuses against the Jews?” he asked.
“I am for him doing that,” Santorum said. “I think he should.”

U.S. Senators Call President Trump A Pathological Liar And Mentally ILL

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Bernie Sanders calls Trump a ‘pathological liar’; Al Franken says ‘a few’ Republicans think Trump is mentally ill

February 12 at 11:44 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday called President Trump a “pathological liar,” while Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) reiterated that “a few” Republican senators are concerned about the president’s mental health.

The strong words from two high-profile senators came as Democrats attacked Trump’s travel ban and said that members of his administration should be investigated or have security clearances suspended for recent comments or conversations with Russian officials.

Sanders made the charge on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as he attacked Trump’s travel ban — which faces a federal court challenge — and Republican plans to revamp the Affordable Care Act.

“We have a president who is delusional in many respects, a pathological liar,” Sanders said.

“Those are strong words,” moderator Chuck Todd interjected while asking Sanders whether he can work with a liar.

“It makes life very difficult. It is very harsh, but I think that’s the truth,” Sanders replied. “When somebody goes before you and says that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally … nobody believes that. There is not a scintilla of evidence to believe that, what would you call that remark? It’s a lie. It’s a delusion.”

Sanders made the comments in response to Todd, who said that some of the senator’s former aides are trying to draft him to start a new political party. For now, Sanders said, he remains committed to “working to bring fundamental reform to the Democratic Party, to open the doors of the Democratic Party” to younger, economically distressed voters.

Franken first raised questions about the president’s mental health Friday night on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” saying Republican senators privately express “great concern” about Trump’s temperament. The senator doubled down Sunday morning, telling CNN’s “State of the Union” that “a few” Republican senators feel that way.

“In the way that we all have this suspicion that — you know, that he’s not — he lies a lot, he says things that aren’t true, that’s the same thing as lying, I guess,” Franken told moderator Jake Tapper, mentioning the president’s repeatedly false claims of voter fraud.

“You know, that is not the norm, uh, for a president of the United States or, actually, for a human being,” Franken said.

Franken also blasted Trump’s travel ban, saying the president “and his group are trying to make Americans more afraid. I think that’s part of how they got elected: just make us more afraid.”

Elsewhere, Democratic lawmakers called for investigations into White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who last week used a national television interview to encourage viewers to buy items from a clothing line designed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. The comments appeared to violate a key ethics rule barring federal employees from using their public office to endorse products.

Hours after Conway’s interview, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called on the Office of Government Ethics to recommend discipline, given that Trump, who is Conway’s “agency head,” holds an “inherent conflict of interest” because of the involvement of his daughter’s business.

Conway’s comments were “a textbook case of a violation of the law,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the committee’s top Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“You cannot go out there as an employee of the government and advertise for Ivanka Trump or anyone else, their products. You can’t do that. And anybody else would be subject to a minimum, probably, of a reprimand, or they could literally lose their job over this,” he said.

Cummings added that Conway’s promotional message was “very blatant” and “intentional,” and said the Office of Government Ethics should “take a thorough look” at the situation before recommending a potential punishment.

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