On Friday, President Donald Trump extended the controversial EB-5 program that allows visas to be fast-tracked in exchange for investment in U.S. properties. The next day, Nicole Meyer stood in a ballroom in Beijing and encouraged Chinese investors to put money into a troubled New Jersey luxury apartment complex in exchange for the chance to get one of those coveted visas.
This was no typical real estate presentation.
Meyer is a sister of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and a principal with Kushner Companies. While Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump, has stepped down from managing the firm, he remains the beneficiary of trusts that hold some business interests, and so he still holds a financial stake in the company’s success.
We can connect the dots and the Chinese can, too. But in case they were oblivious, Meyer made it obvious. On a big screen, Jared Kushner’s previous role in the company and his current role in the Trump administration were highlighted. While Trump wasn’t mentioned by name, his photo was featured at the event as a “key decision maker” on visas. Investors were told to act now, as the visa progam could change. The real urgency seems to be that foreign cash is needed to rescue the proposed development because of trouble back in Jersey City.
This was a foul-smelling effort to use the White House, and Kushner’s power, to boost the family’s bottom line. Sadly, it’s just the latest example of the financial conflicts that pervade this White House, which seems unwilling to stop using influence for personal gain.
Meanwhile, journalists were forced from the room, and, in at least one case, told to delete recordings and photos. At a Sunday presentation in Shanghai, security guards barred all media.
On Monday, the Kushner family apologized for mentioning Jared Kushner, saying there was no intent to push investment by highlighting family ties to Washington. Their actions and words prove otherwise.
The disturbing events also shed light on Trump’s own conflicts when it comes to U.S. visa programs like EB-5. While White House officials said it was renewed as part of a larger spending bill, the choice raises questions about how Trump’s businesses may benefit from such programs, and whether any decisions can be seen in a conflict-free light. (Answer: They can’t.) The only way to stop the conflict might be to stop the EB-5 program altogether, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein suggests.
Does anyone around Trump care about this inappropriate behavior, in which insiders use their ties to boost themselves? Last week, Trump loyalist Stuart Jolly left a lobbying firm amid concerns he was exploiting his access after he posted a photo of himself at the White House with the presidential limousine, captioned, “My Uber finally arrived!”
There’s no way to fully sever the connections between Trump’s family businesses and government. But try. Kushner Companies has to start by halting all new deals and projects, and the international advertising and investment pitches that go with them. Over the weekend, the stench reached from Washington to Beijing. It mustn’t spread further.
— The editorial board