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Kushner a worsening liability

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Bloomberg View

Not for the first time, Jared Kushner has some explaining to do.

According to the New York Times, the president's son-in-law held meetings at the White House last year with executives from Apollo Global Management and Citigroup. As it happens, those two companies later doled out $509 million in real-estate financing to Kushner Cos., the company Jared once ran and still has a significant interest in.

Everybody denies wrongdoing. But here are some pertinent facts: Kushner has investments in the entities that received the loans. The lenders stood to benefit from President Donald Trump's policies. And, whether rules were broken or not, the whole thing exemplifies the kind of conflicts that are corroding this White House from within.

Kushner himself is among the worst offenders. At times, he has seemed to view his White House position as a marketing opportunity for his real-estate concerns. He has solicited investment from a company tied to the Chinese government while helping shape China policy. He has pursued cash infusions from Israeli investors and a Qatari sheikh while conducting Middle East diplomacy. His family company, meanwhile, touted its White House ties while trying to sell visas to Chinese investors.

Making matters worse, Kushner's complicated finances, substantial debts, expansive foreign entanglements, and globe-spanning responsibilities all offer further avenues for conflict. Other governments have demonstrated interest in his various predicaments. The proliferating probes into his company don't help.

Yet Kushner has done the bare minimum to mitigate these concerns. Although he stepped down from managing many family companies, he still stands to benefit from them financially and has sold only a tiny portion of his assets. Much of what he has divested was placed into a trust overseen by his mother.

When asked to explain his finances and connections, moreover, Kushner gets chronically forgetful. He has had to make more than 100 revisions to his security-clearance form to account for errors and omissions. His financial filings had to be amended 39 times in four months after he "inadvertently omitted" millions of dollars in assets. He seems to have forgotten entirely about owning a real-estate startup with dubious ties. And so on.

This combination of brazen conflicts and ethical elasticity is fatal for a public servant. It erodes trust and impedes public business. Foreign policy can't be conducted by someone who's negotiating real-estate deals on the side. Business leaders can't be welcomed into the White House to exchange loans for policy considerations. And routinely careless and evasive officials can't be entrusted with sensitive government business.

Kushner surely has his explanations. But "It's not as bad as it looks" has become the unfortunate mantra of this White House. It must do better.

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