Posts Tagged ‘Jared Kushner’

Trump Team Briefs UN Security Council on Mideast Peace Plan

February 21, 2018

According to diplomatic sources, Kushner and Greenblatt said of the plan that “both sides are going to love some of it, and hate some of it.”

BY MICHAEL WILNER
 FEBRUARY 20, 2018 23:28

Jerusalem Post

Abbas calls for international conference to advance peace efforts

U.S. ‘finalizing’ peace plan despite Abbas vow for international efforts

JPost Exclusive: Trump team briefs Security Council on Mideast peace plan

United States Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley speaks in front of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. . (photo credit: REUTERS)WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team briefed members of the UN Security Council on their plan to jumpstart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday.

Two sources familiar with the briefing told The Jerusalem Post that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law leading the diplomatic effort, Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, and Nikki Haley, US envoy to the UN, fielded questions from diplomats for roughly an hour after a public session of the council concluded.

The briefing by senior Trump administration officials followed a speech to the council by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who asked UN members to come up with an international mechanism that would replace any US-led peace effort.

Kushner, Greenblatt and Haley — who sat in attendance for Abbas’s speech — dismissed that proposal in the briefing, the sources said, noting that it would take perhaps a year to organize yet another conference on Middle East peace bound to fail. Instead they plan on rolling out their peace plan in short time, they added, while declining to specify their timeframe.

According to the diplomatic sources, Kushner and Greenblatt said of the plan that “both sides are going to love some of it, and hate some of it.”

The US team underscored their belief that Israeli settlement activity is unhelpful to the pursuit of peace, but told council members that past US demands for freezes had proven counterproductive. They declined to say whether such a demand would be included in their forthcoming plan.

Kushner and Greenblatt have been working on a plan to get both sides to the negotiating table for over a year. But Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the US embassy there, infuriated the Palestinians and led them to write off the administration as fair arbiters.

The peace team was pressed on allegations of its bias toward Israel in the briefing, to which its members responded that, if they were truly biased, they would have spent less time coming up with such a detailed plan.

They also requested council members encourage the Palestinians to give their peace plan a fair shake upon its release. They have made a similar ask of the Arab League, which also opposed Trump’s Jerusalem decision, but has in recent years sought to warm relations with Israel and resolve its conflict with the Palestinians once and for all.
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http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/JPost-Exclusive-Trump-team-briefs-Security-Council-on-Mideast-peace-plan-543193

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Kushner Doesn’t Want To Give Up His Security Clearance As John Kelly Cracks Down — Trying to do things right at the White House

February 21, 2018

It’s unclear why the president’s son-in-law needs access to highly classified material.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner doesn’t want to give up the interim security clearance that gives him access to highly classified information, even though his current duties likely don’t require him to view top-secret material, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Kushner, also President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has resisted efforts by White House chief of staff John Kelly to overhaul such interim clearances, which are given to some aides as a stopgap measure when their applications are held up as the FBI works through issues with their background checks. Kushner holds one of these interim clearances because of mistakes he made on his forms and the complexity of his financial holdings, the Times reported last week.

Kelly released a memo last Friday saying he would revamp the granting of such clearances after one of the president’s top aides, Rob Porter, was forced to resign after allegations of domestic violence from his two ex-wives were revealed. The women told the FBI interviewers that Porter had physically and emotionally abused them, but he was able to continue working in the White House with a temporary security clearance.

“We should ― and, in the future, must ― do better,” Kelly wrote about the overhaul, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Kushner’s close relationship to the president has given him access to highly classified information despite his own interim clearance, and he is able to read Trump’s daily presidential brief. But as the Times noted, his official duties, which include managing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and revising the North American Free Trade Agreement, likely don’t require a top-level clearance.

Kushner has reportedly become frustrated with Kelly’s new effort, saying he felt personally targeted by the memo, the Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The White House, addressing questions about Kushner’s future clearance, said Tuesday his work would be unaffected by the overhaul.

“I can tell you that no decision within the memo will impact anything that Jared Kushner is working on,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “In terms of specifics on security clearance, I can’t get into that.”

Kelly himself released a statement later Tuesday saying Kushner would still be able to continue his duties, although he didn’t specify what level of clearance he would retain.

“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly said in a statement. “Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the president’s agenda. There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise.”

Kelly’s new plan will revoke any top security clearance to aides whose background checks have been stalled since June 1 or before. High-level clearances will also be reviewed every month.

Abbas at Security Council calls for a peace conference mid-2018 to recognise Palestine

February 20, 2018

Photo showing Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas at UN security council where he called Tuesday for the convening of an international conference by mid-2018 to pave the way for recognition of Palestinian statehood, Feb 20, 2018 (AFP)
NEW YORK:The Security Council in New York convened on Tuesday to discuss developments in the Middle East and the future of the peace process in Palestine.
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President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the session, which started with an update to the council members by the UN special envoy to Palestine Nicolas Mladenov.
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In his remarks Mladenov said that Palestinians are suffering due to Israel’s excessive use of violence and that the settlements are an obstacle to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
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Abbas accused the UN of failing the Palestinians and leaving them without a viable solution.
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He also condemned Israel for acting as a state “above international law.” On Jerusalem, Abbas criticized Washington for pushing the fate of Jerusalem away from the negotiating table.
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In his speech, President Abbas called for a multilateral international peace conference to work on finding a solution between Israel and Palestine.
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The talks  according to President Abbas should be held later this year and should call on the UN to recognise an independent Palestine.
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The peace conference should also serve as a platform for mutual recognition between the Israel and Palestine.
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Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, expressed disappointment that President Abbas left the room when the American official started her speech, in a clear snub to the US  representative since President Trump decided to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem. Haley said that many have opposed the ambassy dedcision, “You don’t have to like that decision…But that decision will not change” she said.

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At UN, Abbas Calls on World Leaders to Recognize Palestinian State — Israel says, we want peace but “we will not chase after you.”

February 20, 2018

Haaretz

Palestinian president calls for international conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace by mid-2018, slams U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as ‘unlawful decision’

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, February 20, 2018.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, February 20, 2018.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called in an address to the United Nations Security Council Tuesday to convene an international conference by mid-2018 that would result in the recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Abbas speaks at UN Security CouncilUnited Nations / YouTub

“We call for the convening of an international peace conference by mid-2018, based on international law and the relevant UN resolutions,” Abbas told the UN Security Council in New York.

The Palestinian president slammed the Trump administration, describing Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as an “unlawful decision which was rejected by the international community, to remove the issue of Jerusalem ‘off the table.'”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley talks with Israeli counterpart Danny Danon as Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt listen before a Security Council meeting, February 20, 2018.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley talks with Israeli counterpart Danny Danon as Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt listen before a Security Council meeting, February 20, 2018.Mary Altaffer/AP

Abbas said that the only way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by establishing “a multi-lateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference and in line with international law and the relevant resolutions.”

Abbas demanded that Israel halt settlement construction during any future negotiations, as well as during any other unilateral move that could have implications on a future peace deal. The American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should be frozen, he said.

Abbas’s plan is based on the Arab peace initiative, international and UN Security Council resolutions, rejecting an interim solution to the conflict.

The Palestinian leader said that “Israel is acting like a state above the law” and blamed the Israeli government for past failures to achieve peace. “Israel shut the door on the two-state solution,” the Palestinian president said.

Abbas stressed his commitment to non-violence, but said the Palestinians will oppose any attempt to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon responded to Abbas’ speech, telling him that it “proves that you are no longer part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Danon said that “the only way it [Israeli-Palestinian peace] is going to work is with direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said following Abbas’ remarks that, while Washington is ready to speak to the Palestinian leadership, “we will not chase after you.”

Haley said that the Palestinian leader “must choose between two paths,” one that rejects America’s role in peace talks, or moving forward with Washington toward a negotiated compromise.

“The choice, mister president, is yours,” Haley concluded.

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, arrived at the UN’s headquarters Tuesday for meetings about the peace process ahead of Abbas’ speach.

Kushner was accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Abbas has been boycotting the Trump administration ever since Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

A White House spokesperson told Haaretz that “as we continue to finalize our plan, we came to the United Nations to hear President Abbas’ speech. We strongly hope that he shares fresh and constructive ideas that can create a comprehensive and lasting peace for both sides because merely recycling the same talking points has not led to peace for decades.”

Kushner and Greenblatt were seen talking with Danon before Abbas’ speech began.

Netanyahu and Trump to Meet in March; White House Closer to Revealing Peace Plan

February 16, 2018
Haaretz

U.S. dubs police recommendations an ‘internal Israeli matter’ ■ Trump set to meet Netanyahu when he flies to U.S. for annual AIPAC conference

.FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, waves with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, waves with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Sebastian Scheiner/AP

WASHINGTON –  The White House said Friday that U.S. President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are expected to meet on March 5th, when Netanyahu will be in Washington to attend the annual AIPAC conference. Officials in Jerusalem confirmed the meeting was on the books.

This will be the second time the two will meet since Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that has heightened Washington’s tensions with the Arab world and has threatened peace talks with Palestinians, who now refuse to accept the U.S. as a mediator in the process. Trump and Netanyahu met on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Forum. At the time, Trump said his decision had “taken Jerusalem off the [negotiating] table.”

The Trump administration is continuing to work on its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians despite the recent recommendations by the Israeli police to indict Netanyahu for bribery in two separate cases. A White House official told Haaretz on Friday that the police recommendations “won’t impact the content or timing of the plan.”

During a visit in Kuwait on Tuesday as part of his Middle East tour, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States hopes to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resume his contacts with the Trump administration on a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Tillerson added that he “understands” some of Abbas’ concerns about recent decisions made by the administration, but emphasized that the U.S. remains committed to reaching a peace deal.

Earlier this week, the State Department also said that the police recommendations are an “internal Israeli matter” that the United States government isn’t going to comment on. The quote by the White House official makes it clear, however, that this issue is not going to change how the administration constructs its peace plan, or when it is going to release it to the world.

The White House also denied a statement that Netanyahu made in front of members of his Likud faction in the Knesset, saying that he was discussing settlement annexation in the West Bank with the U.S. A White House spokesperson said that any reports that the United States was discussing annexation with Israel were false. Netanyahu quickly retracted his own statement in light of the reaction from Washington.

One reason for the administration’s rare expression of distance from Netanyahu was the fact that for the entire week, Tillerson was in the Middle East, visiting five countries in the region and discussing a range of issues with regional leaders. One that came up frequently in his conversations was the administration’s plan for Middle East peace.

Tillerson assured the regional leaders he met, including the king of Jordan and the presidents of Egypt and Turkey, that the United States under Presidend Donald Trump remains fully committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He also sent a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been refusing to work with the Trump administration for two months now, following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Tillerson said he still hopes the Palestinian leader will “find the way to return to the table.”

Reince Priebus on the Donald Trump White House

February 15, 2018
Months after his chaotic resignation as chief of staff, and with his successor on the hot seat, Priebus comes clean about everything: the inauguration crowd-size fiasco, the decision to fire Comey, the Mooch, the tweets, how he helped saved Jeff Sessions’s job, and his mercurial former boss. “I still love the guy,” he says.
Reince Priebus (right) with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, January 2017.
Photograph by Andrew Harnik/A.P. Images.
Just after six a.m. on January 21, 2017, at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, Reince Priebus was watching the cable morning news shows, getting ready to leave for the White House. Suddenly his cell phone went off. It was Donald Trump. The new president, sworn in less than 24 hours earlier, had just seen The Washington Post, with photos showing Trump’s inaugural crowd dwarfed by that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The president was livid, screaming at his chief of staff. “He said, ‘This story is bullshit,’ ” recalled Priebus. “He said, ‘There’s more people there. There are people who couldn’t get in the gates. . . . There’s all kind of things that were going on that made it impossible for these people to get there.’ . . . The president said, ‘Call [Interior Secretary] Ryan Zinke. Find out from the Park Service. Tell him to get a picture and do some research right away.’ ” The president wanted his chief of staff to fix this story. Immediately.

Priebus tried to talk Trump off the ledge. “It doesn’t matter,” Priebus argued. “It’s Washington, D.C. We’re in an 85 percent Democrat area. Northern Virginia’s 60 percent. Maryland’s 65 percent. . . . This is a Democrat haven, and nobody cares.” But Trump was having none of it. Priebus thought, “Is this something that I really want to go to battle over on day one? Who needs a controversy over the inauguration?” Priebus realized he faced a decision: “Am I going to go to war over this with the president of the United States?”

Hours later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stepped into the White House briefing room. “What happened,” Priebus remembered, “was Spicer decided to say that actually, if you combine online and television, radio, and in-person, it was the most watched inauguration.” The trouble with that reasoning was that Spicer’s response—a belligerent, Orwellian performance beamed around the world—was a lie. From the very start, the credibility of the Trump presidency became a laughingstock, immortalized by actress Melissa McCarthy in her devastating parody of Spicer on Saturday Night Live.

On day one, instead of going to war with Donald Trump, Priebus had gone along.

Adapted from a new edition of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple, published in paperback on March 6, 2018, by Crown.

Priebus cannot say he wasn’t warned. Just a month before the inauguration, he had been invited to lunch by Barack Obama’s outgoing chief of staff, Denis McDonough. Following the example of a memorable breakfast hosted eight years earlier by George W. Bush’s chief Josh Bolten—when 12 former White House chiefs had come to give advice to Obama’s incoming chief, Rahm Emanuel—McDonough was joined by 10 chiefs, Republicans and Democrats, in his West Wing office. And as they gathered around a long table, none doubted the enormity of the challenge facing Priebus. “We wanted to help Reince in any way we could,” said Jack Watson, who served President Jimmy Carter. “But I don’t think there was a chief in the room that thought he was going to be able to do the job, given Trump as his president.” Most of the former chiefs believed Trump was intellectually and temperamentally unfit for office—and few thought Priebus could rein him in or tell him hard truths. “We were thinking, God bless him. Godspeed. Good luck,” said Watson. “But he doesn’t have a prayer.”

Priebus was hobbled by two other factors. A former Republican National Committee chairman from Kenosha, Wisconsin, he barely knew his new boss, and he was part of the establishment that Trump had vilified. Moreover, during the campaign, the two men had been known to feud. Trump had been especially resentful of Priebus’s reaction to the campaign’s existential crisis just a month before Election Day: the release of the tawdry Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump had made graphic misogynist comments that were caught by an open microphone.

The morning after the video surfaced, Trump’s candidacy had been pronounced all but dead in the media. In response, the beleaguered nominee’s top aides—campaign C.E.O. Stephen Bannon, former New York mayor Rudy Giu­liani, New Jersey governor Chris ChristieJared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump—gathered at Trump Tower for a war council to advise the candidate on whether he should stay in the race or quit.

The nominee, sleep-deprived, surly, his jaw clenched, posed the crucial question: in light of the videotape, what were his chances of winning? Priebus went first: “If you decide to stay in, you will lose in the biggest landslide in American political history.” One by one, Trump’s other advisers danced around the question—until finally it was Bannon’s turn. “One hundred percent,” he declared. “One hundred percent you’re going to win this thing. Metaphysical.” (Priebus recalled things differently, saying no one was that emphatic.)

Trump, of course, pulled off an astonishing upset. And a month later, McDonough met his successor as chief of staff in the West Wing lobby and escorted him to his office. As the former chiefs went around the table, giving Priebus advice, they were unanimous about one thing: Trump would be unable to govern unless Priebus was empowered as first among equals in the West Wing. Trump’s incoming chief dutifully took notes on a yellow pad.

Suddenly there was a commotion; Barack Obama was entering the room. Everyone stood and shook hands, then Obama motioned for them to sit. The 44th president’s own chiefs—Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley, Jack Lew, McDonough, and Pete Rouse (who served unofficially)—were all pres­ent, and Obama nodded toward them. “Every one of these guys at different times told me something that pissed me off,” Obama said, flashing his familiar grin. “They weren’t always right; sometimes I was. But they were right to do that because they knew they had to tell me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear.” Obama looked at Priebus. “That’s the most important function of a chief of staff. Presidents need that. And I hope you will do that for President Trump.” With that, Obama said his good-byes and departed.

The chiefs were not sure Priebus got the message. “I caught the eye of several of the others and we exchanged worried expressions,” one Republican in attendance remembered. “He seemed much too relaxed about being able to navigate a difficult job. I think he struck a lot of us as clueless.” Another was even more blunt about Priebus’s nonchalance: “He was approaching the job like it was some combination of personal aide and cruise director.”

Former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Priebus; Priebus and Spicer.

Left, by Martin H. Shannon/Redux; right, by Susan Walsh/A.P. Images.

Dining alone with Priebus a few weeks earlier, Bush’s chief Josh Bolten had been alarmed: Priebus seemed to regard himself as Trump’s babysitter and had given little thought to governing. “I could tell that he was nervous about leaving Trump alone and was kind of candid about ‘If I’m not there, Lord knows what happens,’” Bolten recalled. In his view, Priebus seemed “neither focused on organizing his White House staff nor in control of his own life. He was just responding to the fire of the day.”

And there was another ominous sign. Obama’s staff had spent months preparing voluminous transition briefs, thick binders designed to help the next administration get up to speed on subjects ranging from Iran to Cuba to climate change. Every previous incoming team had studied such volumes with care. But as the inauguration drew near, McDonough realized that the binders had not even been opened: “All the paperwork, all the briefings that had been prepared for their transition team, went unused,” he said. “Unread. Unreviewed.”

The inept start of the Trump presidency—with the flagrant lying about crowd sizes—confirmed the ex-chiefs’ worst fears. “It told me that Reince wasn’t in control,” observed Jack Watson. “It told me Reince had no power to say to the president, ‘Mr. President, we can’t do that! We are going to get killed if we do that.’ ” George W. Bush’s first chief, Andrew Card, watched with a sinking feeling: “I said to myself, ‘They don’t know what they’re doing. They have no process. And they don’t have discipline. You must taste your words before you spit them out!’”

In late October 2017, almost three months after he resigned as chief of staff, Priebus met me for dinner at a posh but empty restaurant near the White House. Wearing a blazer, tieless, and without his usual American-flag pin, he had been off the radar and had given no extensive interviews since his abrupt departure six months into his job as Trump’s chief. Unlike his friend Sean Spicer, who had struggled to find employment after his turn as Trump’s disgraced White House spokesman, Priebus had landed back at his old Washington law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP—as president. He was drumming up paid engagements on the lecture circuit. And he was conferring frequently by phone with Donald J. Trump.

The president, Priebus said, speaks with him often on a phone that is unmonitored by John Kelly, who replaced him as Trump’s chief of staff—sometimes just to chat, sometimes for counsel. Trump often called Bannon too—at least before his excommunication following his comments in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. Priebus insisted, contrary to Wolff’s description, that he never called Trump an “idiot.” In fact, for all the humiliation he endured, he said, “I still love the guy. I want him to be successful.” While visiting South Korea last November to give a speech, Priebus made a side trip to the demilitarized zone between South and North, and recommended to Trump that he go there during his Asia trip. (The president and his party tried but were forced to turn back due to bad weather.)

Even so, Priebus’s account of his tenure as Trump’s chief confirms the portrayal of a White House in disarray, riven by conflict. “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus said as we sat down. Being White House chief had been even more arduous than it looked from the outside. “No president has ever had to deal with so much so fast: a special counsel and an investigation into Russia and then subpoenas immediately, the media insanity—not to mention we were pushing out executive orders at rec­ord pace and trying to repeal and replace Obama­care right out of the gate.” Priebus was nervous, repeatedly asking, “This is all off the record, right?” (He later agreed to be quoted.)

“People mistake me for a laid-back guy from the Midwest,” he continued. “I’m much more aggressive, and much more of a knife fighter. Playing the inside game is what I do.” Before Priebus, 45, accepted the job, he had had an impressive, if modest, track rec­ord. “I took the R.N.C. from oblivion,” he explained. “Our team raised a ton of money, built the biggest full-time political-party operation ever, ran two conventions, won more races than anyone else, and hit all the marks—without drama, mistakes, or infighting.”

At first, Priebus had been stung by the relentless criticism of his White House run and was especially sensitive to the brickbats hurled by the pundits. But with time he had understood where they came from—including a jab or two thrown by me during interviews on television news shows. “You got me real good one time on Fox,” he said. “My point is, I know what you were saying. You were saying that Trump needed someone in control, and that we had set up a weak structure. But you have to remember: the president was the Trump campaign. The R.N.C. was the organization—but he accomplished almost everything in his life by himself. The idea that he was suddenly going to accept an immediate and elaborate staff structure regulating every minute of his life was never in the cards.

“One of the things all [the chiefs] told me,” Priebus said, “was: don’t take the job unless you’re designated A number 1, in charge of everything, beginning to end.” All of that was right for a typical president, Priebus thought, but Trump wasn’t typical; he was one of a kind.

As it turned out, there was a moment on Election Night when it looked as though the chief’s job might go to Bannon, who eventually became Priebus’s ally in the West Wing. (Others would be considered as well.) But he didn’t look the part. “Trump looked around and I remember I had a combat jacket on and I hadn’t shaved in a week,” said Bannon, who spoke with me at length just before the release of Fire and Fury. “I had the greasy hair [hanging] down. . . . I’m the senior guy—but look, it was obvious Reince had to be chief of staff.” Priebus, however, would be chief in name only: Trump, instead, anointed Bannon as Priebus’s co-equal, with Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, getting top billing.

Priebus with ousted communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

By T. J. Kirkpatrick/Redux.

From the beginning, Priebus would face a challenge unique to this presidency: how to curb the commander in chief’s tweets. “We can get thrown off our message by tweeting things that aren’t the issues of the day,” he told Trump. At first Priebus thought he had succeeded in wresting Trump’s phone from him. “I talked about the security threat of having your own cell in the West Wing and got the Secret Service to go along with me to mothball his phone.” Priebus had managed to silence one device. But it turned out Trump had another.

Early on, the staff wrote daily tweets for him: “The team would give the president five or six tweets every day to choose from,” said Priebus, “and some of them would real­ly push the envelope. The idea would be at least they would be tweets that we could see and understand and control. But that didn’t allow the president to be fully in control of his own voice. Everybody tried at different times to cool down the Twitter habit—but no one could do it. . . . After [last year’s] joint session [of Congress] we all talked to him, and Melania said, ‘No tweeting.’ And he said, ‘O.K.—for the next few days.’ We had many discussions involving this issue. We had meetings in the residence. I couldn’t stop it. [But] it’s now part of the American culture and the American presidency. And you know what? In many ways, the president was right. And all of us so-called experts might be totally wrong.

“[Trump] is a man who fears no one and nothing,” continued Priebus, “and there is absolutely nothing he’s intimidated by. . . . And that’s very rare in politics. Most people in politics are people who have sort of an approval addiction. Now, granted, President Trump does too, but he’s willing to weather one storm after the next to get to an end result that most people are not willing to weather. . . . He doesn’t mind the craziness, the drama, or the difficulty, as long as an end goal is in sight. He will endure it.”

Soon after the inauguration, the president began to lash out wildly at members of the Justice Department who were poised to open probes into possible misconduct or overreach by members of his administration. On his 11th day in office, he fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce his controversial travel ban. Then Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District. Next up: F.B.I. director James Comey.

Priebus and White House counsel Donald McGahn tried to stall the freight train coming toward them, sensing that sacking Comey would be a fateful political mistake. But Jared Kushner supported Trump’s decision, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo—criticizing the F.B.I. director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation—gave Trump the pretext. On May 9, Trump fired Comey. It would trigger the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel and would prove to be among the most politically disastrous decisions since Richard Nixon fired Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

“[WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL] DON MCGAHN SAID, ‘WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM. . . . [JEFF] SESSIONS JUST RESIGNED.’”

While Priebus and Bannon watched the fiasco explode as the pundits excoriated the Trump White House on every cable news show, Kushner did a slow burn. He was livid, furious that the communications team could not defend Comey’s firing. Bannon blew his stack. “There’s not a fucking thing you can do to sell this!,” he shouted at Kushner. “Nobody can sell this! P. T. Barnum couldn’t sell this! People aren’t stupid! This is a terrible, stupid decision that’s going to have massive implications. It may have shortened Trump’s presidency—and it’s because of you, Jared Kushner!

The screaming matches and white-knuckle showdowns continued. Eight days later, Priebus got an unexpected visit from the White House counsel—a story he has not told publicly before. “Don McGahn came in my office pretty hot, red, out of breath, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem.’ I responded, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Well, we just got a special counsel, and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions just resigned.’ I said, ‘What!? What the hell are you talking about?’ ”

It was bad enough that Trump, having fired Comey, would now be the target of a special prosecutor. Even worse, unbeknownst to Priebus, the president, only moments before, had subjected Sessions to a withering tirade in the Oval Office, calling him an “idiot” and blaming Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation for the whole mess. Humiliated, Sessions said he would resign.

Priebus was incredulous: “I said, ‘That can’t happen.’” He bolted down the stairway to the West Wing parking lot. He found Sessions in the backseat of a black sedan, with the engine running. “I knocked on the door of the car, and Jeff was sitting there,” Priebus said, “and I just jumped in and shut the door, and I said, ‘Jeff, what’s going on?’ And then he told me that he was going to resign. I said, ‘You cannot resign. It’s not possible. We are going to talk about this right now.’ So I dragged him back up to my office from the car. [Vice President Mike] Pence and Bannon came in, and we started talking to him to the point where he decided that he would not resign right then and he would instead think about it.” Later that night, Sessions delivered a resignation letter to the Oval Office, but, Priebus claimed, he ultimately persuaded the president to give it back.

In June, Trump was still on a tear. He considered dumping special counsel Mueller, according to The New York Times, but was dissuaded from doing so. And by July, Trump was back on Sessions’s case, tweeting insults and calling him “weak.” “Priebus was told to get Sessions’s resignation flat out,” said a White House insider. “The president told him, ‘Don’t give me any bullshit. Don’t try to slow me down like you always do. Get the resignation of Jeff Sessions.’ ”

Once more, Priebus stalled Trump, recalled a White House insider. “He told the president, ‘If I get this resignation, you are in for a spiral of calamity that makes Comey look like a picnic.’ Rosenstein’s going to resign. [Associate Attorney General] Rachel Brand, the number three, will say, ‘Forget it. I’m not going to be involved with this.’ And it is going to be a total mess.” The president agreed to hold off. (Sessions didn’t comment on the resignation letter and last July publicly stated that he planned to stay on the job “as long as that is appropriate.” Brand, in fact, resigned this month.)

The Trump presidency’s first six months were the most incompetent and least accomplished in modern history. And its very survival was clouded by the gathering storm of the special prosecutor’s probe.

When it came to Mueller’s investigation, Priebus insisted he personally had nothing to worry about. But Bannon warned that the hounds had been loosed. “You’ve got Mueller’s team, which has got 19 killers who are all experts in wire fraud, money-laundering, and tax evasion,” Bannon said. “Doesn’t sound like collusion to me. But they’ve got unlimited budgets and subpoena power. And here’s what we’ve got on our side: two guys who’ve got legal pads and Post-Its.

Trump, Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, Bannon, onetime communications director Sean Spicer, and embattled national-security adviser Michael Flynn.

By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

“It’s like [certain members of the administration think that] no one took down the Gambino family,” Bannon continued. “Mueller’s doing a roll-up just like he did with the Gambinos. [Former campaign manager Paul] Manafort’s the caporegime, right? And [Rick] Gates [Manafort’s deputy] is a made man! [George] Papadopoulos is equivalent to a wiseguy out in a social club in Brooklyn. This is like a Wagner opera. In the overture you get all the strands of the music you’re going to hear for three hours. Well, Mueller opened with a bang. He totally caught these guys by surprise. So if you’re not going to fight, you’re going to get rolled over.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign to eradicate Obamacare went nowhere. “Repeal and replace” crashed and burned—not once but twice, the second time when John McCain delivered a dramatic 1:30 a.m. thumbs-down on the Senate floor. The debacle proved that Priebus could not count—or deliver—votes. “When McCain voted against it,” Bannon recalled, “I said to myself, Reince is gone. This is going to be so bad. The president is going to get so lit up.”

Priebus soon became a target of Trump’s ritual belittling as the president took to referring to him as “Reincey.” At one point, he summoned Priebus—to swat a fly. Priebus seemed to have been willing to endure almost any indignity to stay in Trump’s favor. There was that scene right out of The Manchurian Candidate when, at a Cabinet meeting, the president’s most powerful advisers virtually competed to see who could be more obsequious; Priebus won hands down, declaring what a “blessing” it was to serve the president.

By the summer, however, Priebus knew that his job hung by a thread. According to insiders, he was already in the crosshairs of “Javanka/Jarvanka”—as Bannon would take to calling the president’s daughter and son-in-law—for refusing to help Kushner in his efforts to oust Bannon. And then came the last straw: the sudden arrival of a new, flamboyant communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. Priebus had opposed his hiring. Scaramucci immediately turned the West Wing into a circular firing squad, calling Trump’s chief of staff a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” in an interview with The New Yorker. He went on, in a tweet, to all but accuse Priebus of leaking classified information about Scaramucci’s finances (which were publicly available). “When he accused me of a felony,” recalled Priebus, “I thought, What am I doing here? . . . I went in to the president and said, ‘I gotta go.’ ” Trump would say nothing publicly in Priebus’s defense. The president accepted his resignation.

Priebus had hoped to exit gracefully within a week or two, but the next day, as Air Force One sat on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, Trump tweeted, “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American. . . . ” The sudden shake-up was vintage Trump; the timing blindsided Priebus, who stepped off the plane into a drenching rain and was whisked away by car.

John Kelly, a four-star Marine general who had run the Southern Command, was 22 years Priebus’s senior. At the start, he had the president’s full confidence and wasted no time transforming the West Wing into a tighter ship. All visitors to the Oval Office—including Bannon, Kushner, and even the president’s adviser-daughter, Ivanka—were now vetted by the chief. Kelly also started heaving loose cannons over the side: Scaramucci was fired within 72 hours of Kelly’s appointment; Sebastian Gorka, another overzealous White House staffer, would soon follow; even Bannon himself would be gone within a month. Kelly declared that he was not put on earth to manage the president; instead, he would impose discipline on the staff and streamline the flow of information to the Oval Office.

Still, expectations were high that Kelly would be the “grown-up in the room,” who would smooth over Trump’s authoritarian edges. And yet, week after week—during the president’s fulminations against “fake news,” his sympathetic comments toward white supremacists who marched through Charlottesville, his taunting of “Rocket Man” before the U.N. General Assembly, and his racist slurs against “shithole countries”—Kelly stood at Trump’s side. He not only reinforced the president’s worst instincts; he doubled down on them. He maligned Congresswoman Frederica Wilson from the White House Press Briefing Room with a false story after she criticized Trump’s handling of a Gold Star widow. In early February, the news broke that Kelly’s deputy Rob Porter—accused of beating both of his ex-wives (Porter denied the allegations)—had served in the sensitive post of staff secretary for more than a year without a permanent security clearance. The debacle surrounding his abrupt resignation showed that Kelly could not manage the West Wing, let alone Trump.

Suddenly Kelly’s future looked uncertain. And Priebus looked more effective in hindsight. “Reince was better than his press,” said Bannon. “If Reince had the exact track record that Kelly has, he would be deemed the worst chief of staff in the history of politics—and that’s not a slam on Kelly. . . . Folks felt [Priebus] didn’t have the gravitas. He’s always the little guy from Kenosha, right?”

Adapted from The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple, to be published in paperback on March 6, 2018, by Crown, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC; © 2017, 2018 by the author.

UNRWA chief slams ‘political dimension’ of US aid cut to Palestinians

January 30, 2018

 

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl speaks during a news conference at a UN-run school in Gaza City. (Reuters)
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GENEVA: The head of the UN agency for Palestinians criticized on Tuesday the “political dimension” of a US decision to dramatically slash funding to the organization, warning this could lead to rising instability.
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Pierre Krahenbuhl said the US decision to reduce funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) this year by $300 million “has a political dimension that I think should be avoided.”
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He made these comments while issuing an emergency appeal for more than $800 million in funds to provide additional assistance to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza and the West Bank.
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The US, which for years has by far been UNRWA’s largest donor, announced this month it will be contributing just $60 million to the organization’s 2018 budget, down from $360 million last year.
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“It is very clear the decision by the US was not related to our performance,” Krahenbuhl said, pointing out that he had a “positive” meeting with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner last November and had been left with the impression Washington would maintain its funding levels.
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Krahenbuhl said the cuts were clearly linked to the Palestinian leadership’s decision this month to freeze ties with Trump’s administration after its controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that Washington could no longer be the main mediator in talks with Israel.
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The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
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Krahenbuhl stressed the “imperative to preserve and ensure that humanitarian funding is preserved from politicization.”
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“The whole point of supporting communities in very difficult conflict environments is that one doesn’t have to agree with anyone’s leadership. One is concerned with the well-being… of communities.”
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He underlined that UNRWA provides essential services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including running 700 schools and 140 health clinics.
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“It is not the first time in our long and proud history that we face challenges of this nature, but it is in financial terms the most serious financial crisis ever in the history of this agency,” he said.
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Cuts to these and other services for populations often already in dire need and lacking any possibilities to move or to improve their situations could be a recipe for disaster, he warned.
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“There is no doubt that if no solution is found to the shortfall… then there will be increased instability,” Krahenbuhl said.
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“Cutting and reducing funding to UNRWA is not good for regional stability.”
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Following the US move, UNRWA last week launched a global fundraising campaign, titled “Dignity is Priceless,” to help fill the gaps.
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And Krahenbuhl said other donor countries were rushing to provide their donations early to ensure services could continue while the organization works to bring in more cash.
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Denmark, Finland, Germany Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland had already provided their annual donations in full, while Belgium, Kuwait, Netherlands and Ireland had vowed to do so “very soon,” he said.

 

Kushner Firm Sued by Tenants Ordered to Reveal Who Partners Are

January 27, 2018

Kushner Firm Sued by Tenants Ordered to Reveal Who Partners Are

Bloomberg

By Peter Blumberg

Jared Kushner

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

A rental apartment management firm run by presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s family was ordered by a federal judge to disclose the identities of its business partners in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Maryland tenants.

At the behest of media organizations, U.S. District Judge James Bredar in Baltimore ruled Friday that Westminster Management’s desire to keep the names secret is outweighed by the public interest in the class-action case. Westminster is accused of charging tenants illegal fees on top of the monthly rent, then threatening to evict them if they don’t pay.

Before joining the administration, Kushner was chief executive officer of the Kushner Cos. Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, divested his interest in his family’s business when he joined the administration. He isn’t named as a defendant in the case.

Bredar directed Westminster Management to file an unsealed document identifying its partners by Feb. 9.

 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-27/kushner-firm-sued-by-tenants-ordered-to-reveal-who-partners-are

Trump Ordered Mueller Fired But Backed Off — NYT

January 26, 2018

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Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

By @MargHartmann

New York Magazine

Everyone can stop wondering when President Trump will try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, because it appears that already happened last summer. Four sources tell the New York Times that Trump ordered Muller’s firing in June, amid reports that the special counsel was looking into whether he attempted to obstruct justice. However, Trump backed down after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.

When McGahn received Trump’s order, he reportedly refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss Mueller. The special counsel can only be removed for cause, and McGahn didn’t find the case Trump laid out very convincing. Per the Times:

First, [Trump] claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.

Justice Department ethics officials cleared Mueller to lead the probe into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign after his former employer said he did not personally work with anyone connected to the case. The Washington Post reports that there was no dispute over golf club dues, Mueller merely resigned from the club in 2011, then “sent a letter requesting a dues refund in accordance with normal club practice and never heard back.”

Legality aside, McGahn reportedly argued that firing Mueller would be catastrophic for Trump’s presidency, as it would spark more questions about obstruction of justice. A source told the Post that McGahn didn’t deliver the resignation threat directly to Trump, but he was serious. McGahn told White House officials that Trump would not follow through on ordering Muller’s firing on his own, and the president backed off.

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe (despite McGahn’s efforts to convince him to stay on), Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would have to fire Mueller. In December he told the House Judiciary Committee that no one had asked him to remove the special counsel, and he would not act on such an order unless it was justified. “If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not,” Rosenstein told the committee.

Trump reportedly discussed firing Rosenstein as well, and putting Rachel Brand, the number three person at the Justice Department, in control of the Russia probe.

In early summer, there were plenty of signs that Trump’s anger at Mueller was rising. Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the circumstances of his firing on June 8, and about a week later Mueller asked to interview several top White House officials about their conversations with the president.

On June 12 Christopher Ruddy, Trump’s friend and Newsmax CEO, told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he’s weighing that option.” He added that he though that would be a “very significant mistake.”

Days later Trump fumed about the Russia probe on Twitter, and seemed to confirm that he was being investigated for obstruction.

Now the Post reports that behind the scenes, Trump was so angry at Mueller that then-White House strategist Steve Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus grew “incredibly concerned” that he was going to fire the special counsel. A source said they enlisted others to help dissuade Trump, and in one meeting with fellow advisers Bannon raised concerns that if Trump fired Mueller, his Cabinet might try to use the 25th Amendment to take him out of office.

At the time, Trump’s legal team was taking an adversarial approach to Mueller’s investigation. That changed in mid-July when attorney Ty Cobb was hired to oversee the White House response to the Russia probe, according to the Times. Now the plan is to cooperate with Mueller, and bring an end to the Russia matter as quickly as possible. While Trump never stopped deliberating about whether to fire Mueller, the president’s attorneys have placated him by continuing to claim that the investigation will soon be wrapped up (Cobb has been widely mocked for constantly offering new and unrealistic predictions for the probe’s end date).

In response to the report that Trump attempted to fire Mueller, Cobb said, “We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the special counsel and its process.”

While Trump’s reported order to fire Mueller is reminiscent of President Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, it’s unclear what impact it might have. The Times reports that Mueller learned about his own attempted firing as he interviewed current and former White House officials, but presumably it’s just one entry on a long list of times Trump may have obstructed justice.

The incident, coupled with the recent report that FBI Director Christopher Wray resisted White House pressure to fire his deputy and threatened to resign, does give us some insight into who really wields power in the Trump White House. As Lawfare Blog notes:

The fact that Trump could not get his own White House counsel to execute his will on this point shows that the president really is constrained in his apparent desire to shut down the Russia investigation. Particularly in combination with the Axios story about Wray, the incident paints a picture of a president who desperately wants to corrupt the justice system but just can’t get it done: malevolence tempered by incompetence, one might call it.

We’re not in Nixon territory yet, but it’s not for lack of trying.

This post has been updated throughout.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/trump-ordered-mueller-fired.html

 

See Also — The New York Times:
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Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit

U.S. Officials Worried Jered Kushner Under Influence of Chinese Campaign

January 25, 2018
 JANUARY 25, 2018 16:59

 

The crux of the concerns center on Kushner’s numerous encounters with Chinese Ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai.

Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner . (photo credit: REUTERS)

NEW YORK – The US security establishment is reportedly concerned that senior White House adviser and son-in-law to the president of the United States, Jared Kushner, may be the subject of a Chinese influence campaign due to his personal business interests.

Those worries were revealed this week after The New Yorker reported that the 37-year-old has repeatedly held private meetings with Chinese government officials since the outset of the Trump administration.

The crux of the concerns center on Kushner’s numerous encounters with Chinese Ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, with some meetings being accompanied by disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Cui and Kushner have also met alone on at least one occasion, according to The New Yorker, which intelligence officers say is a flagrant breach of security protocols.

The US usually conducts high-level talks with foreign governments in large groups, with experts on the American side present to ensure its interests are not manipulated or undermined.

But Kushner’s alleged eschewing of the diplomatic procedures have “made some people in the US government uncomfortable,” leading experts to believe that Beijing could be using the political neophyte to influence American policy.

“He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,” one security official told the Manhattan-based magazine. “It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.”

Those concerns were first raised following a private meetings Kushner held with Cui last year at Donald Trump’s sprawling Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, where he reportedly discussed his own business interests along with policy.

That’s when intelligence officials “became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner’s views.” It’s unclear what was said between Kushner and the Chinese envoy, with one former official briefed on the matter describing the talks as “inconclusive.”

In response, a Kushner spokesperson told The New Yorker that there “was never a time — never — that Mr. Kushner spoke to any foreign officials, in the campaign, transition, and in the administration, about any personal or family business. He was scrupulous in this regard.”

Security officials note, however, that the president’s son-in-law owes hundreds of millions of dollars on a 41-story Manhattan office building his company purchased in 2007.

Over the past two years, Kushner has sought financial backing overseas – courting firms in South Korea, Israel and France – all to no avail as a substantial mortgage payment looms just months away.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner was also warned by security officials to be careful when speaking to family friend Wendi Deng Murdoch, who they suspect has ties to the communist government in Beijing.

Murdoch, the former wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is a powerful Chinese-American business woman who has been close friends with Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, for years.

Security officials were reportedly concerned that Deng would use her contacts in the administration to further a construction project in Washington funded by the Chinese government, an anonymous source told the Journal.

The high-profile project is a proposed plan to build a Chinese garden less than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from both the Capitol and the White House.

The garden, estimated to cost $100 million, was reportedly designated a national security risk because the design included plans for a tall tower that could be used for surveillance.

A spokesman for Deng told The Guardian that Deng “has no knowledge of any FBI concerns or other intelligence agency concerns relating to her or her associations.”

He added: “[Deng] has absolutely no knowledge of any garden projects funded by the Chinese government.”

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