If you think Trump’s many ties to Russia are complicated, just wait until you learn about what’s been going on with Saudi Arabia. I’ll do my best here to knock out the background on a massive and long-running—but little-noticed—scandal that centers around Jared Kushner and how his ties to Saudi Arabia have compromised him, especially including his personal business interests and corporate connections. The story doesn’t end with Kushner, though: It also ensnares Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in a sprawling scheme to capitalize on U.S. government offices. Bottom line: This is why you should care that Jared Kushner’s security clearance is a national security liability.
I’ll try to simplify it all with simple geometry. Off we go.
Boring Background In Brief
Over the last two years we’ve seen periodic news reports detailing the comedy of errors that has been Jared Kushner’s security clearance process. The story flares up, but because it seems only to be about bureaucratic paperwork, it smolders just as quickly. This is because we mostly see the “what”—the bureaucratic swindle—and not the “why.” News: It’s not boring.
Sadly, though, we can’t get around the “what” of it, so I’ll tell a short story:
Kushner, who needs a top-level clearance to do the jobs assigned to him—such as negotiating the Middle East peace process—didn’t receive a full clearance for a long, long time. When he did get cleared, it was because Donald Trump—who is President of the United States and coincidentally also Kushner’s father-in-law—overrode his national security officers and demanded it.
Why didn’t Kushner qualify? First, he repeatedly withheld information on his security questionnaire (form SF-86), which he had to amend four times. (Flag this: The omissions included meetings with foreign officials.) Kushner’s applications were so riddled with errors and omissions that when Charles Phalen, director of the administration’s National Background Investigations Bureau, was asked before Congress if he could “recall if there has ever been an applicant having to submit four addenda detailing over 100 errors and omissions being able to maintain their security clearance,” he replied he had “never seen that level of mistakes.”
But still Kushner skated.
We also recently learned that White House security specialists also rejected Kushner’s clearance after an FBI background check flagged him as potentially vulnerable to foreign influence. (“Foreign influence.” Flag that one, too.) Their superior, Carl Kline—who in May 2017 Trump named director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President—overruled their recommendation and gave Kushner his stamp of approval. But there was one hurdle to go: Because Kushner needed the highest level of clearance (“SCI”), the application then had to go through CIA vetting for a final decision. But CIA officers reportedly didn’t like what they saw. They called the White House and asked why Jared even got a top-secret clearance, let alone the higher bar he was applying for. (“Top-secret” is information that, if passed on to foreign interests, could cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security; “SCI” is even more sensitive.) NBC News reported the CIA didn’t grant Kushner an SCI clearance, which theoretically means Kushner couldn’t access critical intelligence he needs to do his job. Unless, of course, Trump stepped in. New reports say that’s exactly what Trump did.
But again, this isn’t the “why” of the story…
Kushner Owes Powerful People Big Favors
In May 2017, Kushner flew with Trump to Saudi Arabia on the President’s first international visit. While there, Trump announced a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom, a claim that has since proved to be a fairly massive lie, even for Trump. That deal, Trump said, was part of an even larger $350 billion investment deal between the two countries. As part of that deal, Saudi Arabia pledged to invest $20 billion in a new $40 billion fund—fifty percent—marked for U.S. infrastructure development.
The Kushner key: That $40 billion fund, announced at the time of the Saudi visit, is managed by a firm called the Blackstone Group (not to be confused with Blackrock, Bayrock, or Blackwater). Since 2013 Blackstone has loaned Kushner Companies—which have been plagued by financial troubles—more than $400 million to fund an array of deals. But we can go one step further: Blackstone co-founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman was actually in Saudi Arabia with Kushner and Trump when they made the deal. And even further: At the time, Schwarzman was the head of Trump’s business-advisory council.
Blackstone stock rose eight percent upon the announcement of the deal, meaning Schwarzman’s personal net worth increased about $500 million.
These are the first connections of this complex scandal, and to go back to the geometry, it forms a triangle: Kushner connecting former investors with a foreign authoritarian government.
Infrastructure Week Is The Home Alone 2 of Groundhog Days
Fast forward one year, and enter Elaine Chao, Trump’s Secretary of Transportation and Mitch McConnell’s wife. In May 2018 Chao proposed to Congress a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, which would get the majority of its backing not from the federal government, but from “non-federal” (i.e., private) sources. This ties back to the Blackstone/Saudi fifty-fifty $40 billion infrastructure fund investment, and in more than one way.
Elaine Chao’s brother-in-law, a guy named Jim Breyer, was named to Blackstone’s board of directors in the summer of 2016. (Breyer is married to Chao’s sister.) A few weeks after news broke that Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) had ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, Breyer attended a business summit in Saudi Arabia hosted by none other than MBS himself. Because MBS had essentially just been accused of murdering a U.S. journalist, most of the invitees didn’t attend. Breyer obviously shared no such compunction.
So now our triangular scandal has become a square: Kushner, the Saudis, Blackstone, and Chao.
Let’s! Get! Pentagonal!
Ah yes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Famously and weirdly deferential to our maniac-in-chief. Blackstone’s CEO—that Schwarzman guy mentioned above, who headed Trump’s business advisory council and went to Saudi Arabia with him—also donated $5 million to a PAC called the “Senate Leadership Fund” during the 2016 election. That PAC is closely aligned with McConnell.
So now we see Blackstone tied directly to a massive new U.S. government infrastructure project in three ways, via not only Kushner, but Chao and her husband McConnell (whose interests are obviously connected). Include the Saudi Arabia point, and it’s a pentagon. Or, considering the next section, perhaps it’s a pentagram.
In October 2018, according to U.S. intelligence assessments, MBS personally ordered the killing of U.S. journalist and former Saudi resident Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has never agreed with the intelligence community’s conclusion, and the New York Times reported that Kushner told Trump to support MBS until the outrage blows over. Weeks after the murder, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a closed-door meeting with MBS in which he reportedly passed the prince a “road map” to help him ride out the scandal.
Enter McConnell. Though the Senator condemned the killing, when a motion to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in its unconscionable war against Yemen came to the Senate floor last December, McConnell was one of the few voices who spoke against it. “We also want to preserve the 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” he said, “and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.” That motion passed the Senate despite his protestations, but McConnell is now poised to thwart another resolution censuring Saudi Arabia for the War in Yemen. Coincidentally, just last week Kushner met face-to-face with MBS for the first time since Khashoggi’s murder.
It’s not their first hang. Last fall the New York Times published a knock-out report detailing the Saudi’s long and enduring campaign to ingratiate themselves to Kushner. In October 2017, a year before Khashoggi’s murder, Kushner took an unannounced trip to see MBS, and during that visit reportedly passed MBS a list of Saudi dissidents. That list reportedly came directly from the President’s Daily Brief, one of the most sensitive documents in U.S. intelligence. Kushner at the time had an interim security clearance.
The prince seems to have returned the favor. About six months later, MBS visited Trump in Washington D.C., but during the trip a sizable section of his entourage stayed at Trump International Hotel in Manhattan. As the Washington Post’s David Farenthold later reported, the Saudi coterie spent enough in its five-day visit to turn the Trump hotel a profit for the whole quarter:
After two years of decline, revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018. What caused the uptick at President Trump’s flagship hotel in New York? One major factor: “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” wrote [the hotel’s] general manager Prince A. Sanders in a May 15 letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post....”Due to our close industry relationships,’ he wrote, ‘we were able to accommodate many of the accompanying travelers.”
So far we haven’t mentioned anything about Russia. Thank god, right? Well, sorry, guys. Hate to do this to you, for real, but go there we must.
Back to Jim Breyer—Elaine Chao’s brother-in-law, who sits on Blackstone’s board of directors. Mentioned above, Breyer attended that Saudi Arabia business summit a few weeks after the Khashoggi killing. Because of the murder, he was one of comparatively few who attended. Among the others, however, was a guy named Kirill Dimitriev, CEO of the Russia Direct Investment Fund. Schwarzman—Blackstone’s CEO—was a member of the Russia Direct Investment Fund in 2011. (He was Blackstone’s CEO at that time, too, and Dimitriev was RDIF’s CEO.) This seems like a tangent to our pentagram, but it’s not.
Playing Six Sides
I know I probably don’t have to draw the final line for you here, but to cinch it all up, in 2016 Donald Trump Jr. met in Trump Tower with an emissary from Saudi Arabia who reportedly offered help with the campaign. At that same time, remember, Saudi Arabia was seducing Kushner, and Trump was covering up his Trump Tower Moscow business opportunity.
When you add this all up, then, you begin to see quite clearly just why it’s important to the United States that Jared Kushner not have security clearance. His liability—foreign business ties—is, perversely, the exact same reason his father-in-law overruled the CIA to give it to him unilaterally. The Saudi Arabia scandal, in a very real sense, is the Russia scandal. More accurately, I should point out that both of them are subsumed under a controlling scandal, the largest in U.S. history: The unmitigated, blasphemous corruption of Donald Trump and the people around him. The United States is on the auction block. You and I and everyone we know, we don’t matter. What we want to believe, our principles of peace and human rights, don’t matter. The only thing that matters is making a few billion more bucks, or in the case of Trump and Kushner’s financial incompetence, saving their own asses.
Come to think of it, I could have saved us all a lot of trouble and just posted one meme—a single line that blows the rest away: