Joshua Kushner, a venture capitalist and the younger brother of White House adviser Jared Kushner, met with Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi the same week as his father, Charles Kushner, did in April 2017, in an independent effort to discuss potential investments from the Qatari government. Both meetings took place at Al Emadi’s St. Regis Hotel suite in Manhattan.
This revelation comes after Charles Kushner, in an interview with the Washington Post this week, confirmed for the first time that his meeting with Al Emadi had indeed taken place on the subject of financing for the underwater Kushner property at 666 Fifth Avenue. The Intercept was the first to report on the meeting earlier this month; at the time, a Kushner Companies spokesperson declined to comment on whom Kushner had met with. In the interview with the Post, Kushner claimed he had no intention of ever accepting money from Qatar if it had even been on offer. To do so, the elder Kushner said, would invite questions about a conflict of interest given his son Jared’s position in the White House, questions that he preferred to avoid.
Joshua Kushner met with Al Emadi to pitch him on his tech fund Thrive Capital, though the Qataris declined to invest, saying that the investment was not significant enough to warrant making, two sources familiar with the decision told The Intercept. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, with hundreds of billions of dollars under management, doesn’t typically make deals that are smaller than $300 million, the sources said. According to an email reviewed by The Intercept, Kushner was introduced to the Qatari minister by a US-based businessman, who was acting on a request from the Qataris to find off-market investment opportunities.
Jesse Derris, a spokesman for Joshua Kushner, confirmed after this story was published that the meeting took place, but disputed the claim that Kushner solicited funds. “The claim in this story is utterly false. A representative solicited Josh last April via email to meet with the minister in New York. After clearing the meeting with outside counsel, Josh met with the minister for less than 30 minutes. The meeting had nothing to do with a capital raise. Thrive Capital was not raising a fund at the time and at no time solicited funds from the minister or anyone associated with him,” he said. Mohammed Hitme, a spokesperson for the finance minister, did not respond to requests for comment.
Joshua Kushner is not involved in the operations of the real estate firm Kushner Companies. Joshua has been launching and investing in a series of startups since he graduated from Harvard in 2008. He has since founded Thrive Capital, a billion-dollar technology investment fund, and Oscar Health, a health insurance company. A proud liberal, he has been at pains to distance himself from the Trump administration. “It is no secret that liberal values have guided my life and that I have supported political leaders that share similar values,” he said after the election.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told Forbes that Kushner was explicit about the distance between him and President Donald Trump, regardless of his brother’s role. “Josh went around to me and presumably every company and said, ‘I have no personal ties to this administration. I’m not responsible for their actions and won’t be able to get you special favors,’” Butterfield said. “‘Just consider me the same person who invested in your company — there is no connection, either good or bad.'”
The April 2017 meetings with the Qataris were not the first meetings held by members of the Kushner clan with foreign government financiers in the wake of the election. In the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration, Jared Kushner met with the Russian financial institution Vnesheconombank, known as VEB, in Manhattan, with the parties giving conflicting explanations about that gathering. The Russian bank — under U.S. sanctions since 2014 — said that the meeting was related to its business strategy; Jared Kushner insisted that it was a mere diplomatic meeting.
Of his rendezvous with the Qatari finance minister, Charles Kushner told the Post, “I was invited to a meeting. … Before the meeting, Kushner Companies had decided that it was not going to accept sovereign wealth fund investments. We informed the Qatar representatives of our decision and they agreed. Even if they were ready to wire the money, we would not have taken it.”
The Post reported that the elder Kushner said he “turned down possible funding” from Qatar “to avoid questions of a conflict of interest for his son,” Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The Post also reported that Tom Barrack, who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee, said that Charles Kushner had been “crushed” when a related effort to seek financing from Qatar’s former prime minister had collapsed in the spring of 2017. After the financing effort failed, Jared Kushner took a sharp turn against Qatar diplomatically, supporting a crushing economic blockade against the country.
If Charles Kushner’s new explanation of the April 2017 meeting, which he had not previously acknowledged even occurred, is accurate — a big if — it would make statements Kushner Companies previously gave The Intercept and the Post true only in the most technical sense.
A company spokesperson, in an interview with the Post, said, “We did not meet with anyone from the Qatari Government to solicit sovereign funds for any of our projects. To suggest otherwise, is inaccurate and false.”
The spokesperson had offered a similar statement to The Intercept. “We don’t comment on who Charlie meets with,” she said, adding, “We don’t do business with any sovereign funds.”
So Kushner’s latest storyline is this: Yes, we did meet with the Qatari government about an investment deal, but we would never have taken money if it was offered because that would be wrong.
Charles Kushner’s claims are further undermined by a second, follow-up meeting Charles held with the Qataris the day after his meeting with the finance minister, inside a 666 Fifth Avenue conference room — a meeting that The Intercept previously reported and that Kushner failed to acknowledge in response to a question from the Post.
This session, according to two financial sources, was again aimed at convincing the Qatari guests to put their money in 666 Fifth Avenue. “It’s the best thing since sliced bread,” was how one source summarized Kushner’s pitch, noting that he played up the location of the property, the quality of the anchor tenant (the major tenant in a building who forms the bedrock of the cashflow), and the ability to add an extra floor of retail. It strains reason to think that Kushner Companies would have had two such meetings back-to-back if they had decided not to accept any Qatari investment.
(Charles Kushner, after hiring a prostitute to entrap a family member who was cooperating with prosecutors against him, was convicted in 2005 on charges of “assisting in the filing of false tax returns relating to the Kushner Companies, retaliating against a cooperating witness and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission,” according to the Department of Justice.)
Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics under the Obama administration, expressed skepticism on Twitter about Kushner’s statements to the Post:
What makes his story super extra believable is the omission of key details and the refusal to take any follow up questions: "The statement did not address whether a meeting took place, however, and the company declined to respond to follow-up questions at the time." Neato! https://t.co/Defy9jyWMv
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) March 20, 2018
Jared Kushner’s refusal to divest fully from his family’s business, combined with the shifting explanations of the various meetings, highlights the kind of conflicts that federal rules around such engagements are designed to avoid, said Norm Eisen, an ethics officer with the Obama White House. (Such rules generally apply only to government employees.)
“Legal and ethical barriers to conflicts, such as Jared’s divesting from some of his family’s businesses, only work to prevent conflicts if they are followed in good faith by everyone concerned,” said Eisen, a former ambassador. “There is ample reason to question whether that happened here.”
Update: March 23, 2017
This story was updated to include comment from a spokesman for Kushner.