Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner watch as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2017.
JIM BOURG

Kushner family takes advantage of White House connections in China

About a month ago, ahead of Donald Trump's first meeting with China's Xi Jinping, the American president put his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of White House negotiations with officials in Beijing. It was, by any fair measure, a problematic decision.

Kushner, who has no background in foreign policy, diplomacy, or U.S. relations with China, was woefully unqualified for such responsibilities. Complicating matters, as was widely reported at the time, Kushner's family was exploring business deals in China, creating possible ethical conflicts the White House should want to avoid.

A month later, this dynamic appears quite a bit worse than anyone realized. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:

The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big -- and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner's sister Nicole Kushner Meyer to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what's known as an investor visa.

Controversies surrounding EB-5 visas aren't exactly new. The program, according to its many critics on both sides of the aisle, effectively sells immigration visas to foreigners willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. development projects. It's especially popular among wealthy Chinese families.

All of which led to the very interesting presentation from Jared Kushner's sister, and the ethical questions that come with it.

Donald Trump's ethical controversies have become so common, they're almost hard to keep track of, but this adds a new wrinkle. On the one hand, we see the president putting Jared Kushner in a key position of influence related to the White House and Beijing. On the other hand, we see Kushner's sister in China, seeking investors, and letting locals know that Kushner's boss is the "key decision maker" on the EB-5 program's future.

And while Jared Kushner has reportedly stepped back from his family's business, the New York Times' report noted that this project was advertised to Chinese investors as the latest offering from the "star Kushner real estate family."

Richard Painter, the ethics chief in the Bush/Cheney administration, told the Post the Beijing presentation was "incredibly stupid and highly inappropriate," adding, "They clearly imply that the Kushners are going to make sure you get your visa.... They're [Chinese applicants] not going to take a chance. Of course they're going to want to invest."