CNN: Mueller taking an interest in Kushner debt, real estate

Just how wide-ranging has Robert Mueller’s investigation become? CNN reported last night that the special counsel probe has taken an interest in Jared Kushner’s financial dealings — and not with Russia, either. Investigators have been asking questions about a highly leveraged Manhattan property and Kushner’s attempts to find financing for it, including negotiations in 2016 with Chinese and Qatari investors:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner’s discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China. …

Mueller’s investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation.

It’s not clear what’s behind Mueller’s specific interest in the financing discussions. Mueller’s team has not contacted Kushner Companies for information or requested interviews with its executives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell issued a scathing denial shortly afterward, claiming that neither he nor Kushner had ever been asked about this property or any others — by Mueller’s team, anyway. The subject has come up before, and publicly, two months ago:

A group of Democratic lawmakers has sent a letter to White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner asking if since the election of his father-in-law Donald Trump he has discussed with foreigners the financing of a Manhattan office tower owned by his family.

The letter says the legislators are concerned Kushner has held a senior government post “while possibly seeking massive cash bailouts for 666 Fifth Avenue from foreign nationals or foreign entities.” It was signed by 13 Democratic lawmakers, including Ted Lieu, of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and Brendan Boyle, of Pennsylvania.

The building is losing money and has a $1.2 billion mortgage due in February 2019. Kushner Cos. is responsible for half the loan, and representatives for the company have approached investors in Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea, Qatar, France and Israel, Bloomberg reported in an article cited by the lawmakers.

Bloomberg originally reported on the attempts to get capital infusions in August 2017, but the negotiations all predated Donald Trump’s inauguration. The interest from foreign investors peaked after Trump won the Republican nomination in May, but as noted by CNN, the only two serious negotiations ended up failing to produce any investment. Other potential feelers by the South Korean government and a Saudi billionaire didn’t even get that far, despite the promise of Trump’s presidential run. By the time they got into the White House, Kushner had divested himself of any control over the family business.

Originally, though, Democrats looked at this as a direct connection to Russian collusion:

Federal investigators know that Kushner met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower last December and later met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-controlled VEB bank in two meetings that he didn’t, at first, disclose publicly or on his application for his national-security clearance. After those meetings became public, Kushner and the White House said the contacts were made in his role as a Trump adviser and didn’t involve discussion of his family business. But VEB and a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin described the meetings quite differently, noted Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. They said that Kushner was there in his capacity as head of his family’s real estate business. Investigators say they are studying those accounts with keen interest.

“I think it is part of a pattern of outreach to Russian financial interests, which are essentially Vladimir Putin and his oligarch circle, by Trump family members,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The financial dealings are important because we know that the Russian playbook is to engage and compromise foreign leaders.” He added, “Whether this meeting and contact are significant remains to be understood.”

Worth noting: the Russians didn’t offer to invest in the property, either. If Mueller’s asking about the Chinese and Qatari negotiations, it would suggest that the Russia link didn’t pan out like Democrats hoped and that Mueller’s investigators are doing due diligence in playing out the string. Why bother with Qatar and China if you’ve already got the Russian connection? There’s nothing illegal in getting capital from foreign investors, after all, and no one’s suggested that Qataris tried to rig the election. As for China, when they want to rig an election, they do it much more directly. Just ask Bill Clinton.

The most pertinent question on this isn’t about Jared Kushner. It’s about Donald Trump. If Mueller’s probing Kushner’s finances separately from the Russia-collusion hypothesis, why wouldn’t he do the same with Donald Trump?  That would cross the red line that Trump set out for Mueller, but it seems unlikely that would stop Mueller from pursuing it — unless, as noted above, he’s just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts from the original Democratic demand on the 666 building.