For cripes sake. The point of Trump’s populist revolution was not to enrich the Kushner family by trading precious American immigration privileges for filthy lucre.
It was to enrich the Trump family. Eyes on the prize, people.
The most amazing thing about this is how brazen it is. They sent Kushner’s own sister to China to make the pitch, seemingly to remind potential investors just how direct their pipeline to the Oval Office could be.
The money [for the building project in New Jersey, known as One Journal Square,] would be provided through a much-criticized government program known as EB-5 that awards foreign investors a path to citizenship in exchange for investments of at least $500,000 in American development projects.
Speaking in a ballroom [in Beijing], Ms. Meyer said the project “means a lot to me and my entire family.” She mentioned her brother’s service as chief executive of Kushner Companies, the family business from which he resigned in January, saying he had left to serve in the Trump administration…
Lawmakers are considering major changes to the program, through which investors, mostly from mainland China, receive about 10,000 visas each year. Some critics have urged the government to abolish it entirely. A slide displayed at the event on Saturday identified Mr. Trump as a “key decision maker” on the fate of the EB-5 program.
Kushner’s lawyer claims that Kushner has personally divested from the One Journal Square project, although of course his family has not. (The lawyer also insists that Kushner will recuse himself from any future White House deliberations on possibly reforming the EB-5 visa.) Attendees at the presentation surely understood how politically connected the Kushners are even without his sister getting into specifics. The materials noted the family’s “celebrity” status — wink wink. And the Chinese upper crust are very familiar with how regimes operate where gaining influence requires making nice with “princelings,” i.e. children of the political elite:
Among the wealthy elites in China, family, business and politics are all deeply intertwined. Every branch of the Communist Party, every province and city often operate as a fiefdom for those in power, allowing leaders special, lucrative access to policy, land and government contracts. There is even a name for second-generation sons and daughters of wealthy business executives and government officials — such as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who have access to power through family ties. They are called “fuerdai.”…
At Saturday’s event, attendee Wang Yun, a Chinese investor, said the Kushner family’s ties to Trump were an obvious part of the project’s appeal.
“Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s family, of course it is still affiliated,” Wang said.
The Times reported a month ago that China’s leadership had settled on Jared Kushner as their main conduit to Trump partly because of their comfort with the “princeling” concept. If you want to get a message directly to the president, you’re better off with his son-in-law than with Rex Tillerson. No doubt the word has gone out to rich, tapped-in Chinese investors looking to plant some roots in the United States too.
The EB-5 visa is, in theory, a win-win for everyone. Rich foreigners pony up six- or seven-figure investments for U.S. projects in return for something that can eventually secure them American citizenship. American venture capitalists then take that money and use it to launch projects that end up creating jobs for U.S. workers. It’s a nifty “globalist” arrangement. To a nationalist, though, the idea of auctioning off American green cards in an era when immigration is already supposedly too high must grate, especially when it’s for the benefit of the foreign elite, like Chinese oligarchs. As for creating jobs, WaPo notes a GAO report flagging the EB-5 program as ripe for fraud given the amount of money changing hands. If you’re a Chinese billionaire eager to purchase American citizenship for your family, you couldn’t care less whether your “investment” goes to a legit building project or not so long as the visa is granted. The investment is a bribe, essentially, which entitles you to fast-track entry into the U.S. without the usual proof of education or work qualifications and even in some cases without basic law-enforcement checks. Meanwhile, if you’re an American eager to get your hands on some of the untold billions sloshing around among foreign oligarchs in China, Russia, or wherever, the number of actual jobs your project ultimately generates or whether your project is legitimate in the first place may be, shall we say, secondary concerns.
All of that being so, an EB-5 pitch from the “princeling” Kushners carries two special charms to a foreign investor. One, it provides an unusual degree of confidence that the investment/bribe will in fact produce the visa they’re after (which federal immigration bureaucrat would dare slow-walk a Kushner investor?), and two, it carries the potential for a relationship with the president himself. The EB-5 is known as “the golden visa” among Chinese but an EB-5 via the Kushners is really more of a platinum visa. The only more attractive “investment” opportunity in the U.S. for a wealthy foreigner would be one with the Trump family itself. So obvious is the stench of conflicts of interest from this that organizers at the Kushner event in Beijing yesterday reportedly panicked once they discovered there were NYT and WaPo reporters there to cover it and ended up hassling them even though it was advertised as a public event. According to one WaPo researcher in attendance:
I was threatened, harassed and forced to delete recordings and photos of The Kushner family recruiting Chinese investors in US Green cards. https://t.co/8IG5LzjbaU
— Congcong Daphne Zhang (@daphnewelkin5) May 6, 2017
“[O]rganizers grabbed a reporter’s phone and backpack to try to force that person to leave,” WaPo claimed in its report. “Later, as investors started leaving the ballroom, organizers physically surrounded attendees to prevent them from giving interviews.” The PR person in charge told the Post, “This is not the story we want.” (The organizers of a second Kushner presentation, this one held earlier today in Shanghai, were more proactive in dealing with the problem: They barred reporters from entering in the first place.) Something to remember when the White House inevitably says tomorrow that Jared Kushner has personally divested from the New Jersey building project and therefore there’s nothing untoward about any of this.
Reforms to the EB-5 program have been proposed recently, by the way, but the main idea isn’t to shut down the program or increase the numerical threshold for jobs created for qualifying projects. The chief recommendation is to increase the amount of the qualifying foreign investment. Instead of being able to buy a green card for as little as $500,000, rich foreigners might have to chip in $1.3 million or more. How many Chinese billionaires will balk at the new price if it ends up being enacted? And how many more fraudsters will be lured into the EB-5 process by the prospect of even more lucrative visas? Stay tuned.