During his presidency, Donald Trump’s agenda in the Middle East was often difficult to understand, much less defend. Much of the administration’s foreign policy, shaped in part by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, appeared to be built around the Republican’s unexplained affinity for Saudi Arabia.
For Barack Obama, the United States relationship with Riyadh was notoriously “complicated.” For his successor, the relationship was far simpler: The Saudis were right and worthy of Trump’s defense.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump’s first foreign trip while in office was to Saudi Arabia. When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman imprisoned other members of the royal family, Trump announced his support for the move. When the Saudis imposed a blockade on U.S. allies in Qatar, Trump endorsed this, too. When the U.S. had evidence of bin Salman approving the operation that killed Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump boasted that he came to the crown prince’s rescue and shielded him from consequences.
Kushner was responsible, at least in part, for helping shape the administration’s policy, making at least three trips to Saudi Arabia during his father-in-law’s first year in the White House. (Oddly enough, the actual total might be more: One of Kushner’s trips was kept private and only came to public attention after his return.)
And it was against this backdrop that The New York Times had this report:
Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal. A panel that screens investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund cited concerns about the proposed deal with Mr. Kushner’s newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, previously undisclosed documents show.
That second sentence is of particular significance: Those responsible for helping oversee the Saudi sovereign wealth fund were, to put it mildly, highly skeptical about giving Kushner’s firm all of this money, and for good reason: They rightly noted that Trump’s son-in-law has no relevant experience, and the firm’s operations were deemed “unsatisfactory in all aspects.”
Kushner got the money anyway — alongside an agreement that after the firm received its first $500 million installment, the inexperienced former White House official would hire a “qualified investment team,” which seems like the sort of thing Kushner probably should’ve done before the $2 billion deal.
Let’s also not forget that Kushner’s relevant background, to the extent that it exists, was running is family’s commercial real estate empire — when it ran into serious money trouble.
By any sane measure, the fact that the Saudis handed Kushner $2 billion anyway is awfully tough to defend. Indeed, it’s an open question as to whether Riyadh agreed to such an investment because of services rendered — which is to say, a possible reward for the pro-Saudi work Kushner did during his time in the White House — or because of possible services to come in the event of a second term for his father-in-law.
Either way, this appears awfully corrupt.
At this point, if you’ve shared my missive with your weird uncle who consumes conservative media all day, he’s probably already sent you a furious email that reads in part, “What about Hunter Biden? If we’re worried about presidential family members engaging in shady deals with foreign governments, why focus on this and not President Joe Biden’s son and his international efforts?”
On the surface, this may seem like a fair question, but just below the surface, there’s a problem: Hunter Biden never worked at any level in any presidential administration. He didn’t steer his father’s foreign policies toward any country. His role in U.S. foreign policy was, is, and has been literally non-existent.
Kushner, on the other hand, was Trump's right-hand man in the White House, taking a special interest in U.S. policy in the Middle East.
If you’re a voter preoccupied with presidential children becoming compromised by a foreign power, there is no “both sides” dynamic to which to cling.