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Maddow Blog | Why Saudi money for Kushner, Mnuchin is drawing fresh scrutiny

MSNBC 5/23/2022 Steve Benen

In the final months of the Trump administration, then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East, ostensibly in support of a program called the Abraham Fund, which would finance projects in the region. On the surface, this wouldn’t seem especially notable.

But just below the surface, there’s a lot more to this.

As The New York Times reported in a detailed new piece, the Abraham Fund proved to be little more than a mirage: After Donald Trump left the White House, the fund ceased to be. But wouldn’t you know it, after the Abraham Fund evaporated, Mnuchin and Kushner also launched private funds that sought to raise money from many of the same folks — most notably in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, the duo didn’t just seek the money, they received it: Soon after leaving office, Mnuchin’s private venture received a $1 billion commitment from the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund, on top of other investments from other Middle Eastern countries. Kushner secured a $2 billion investment with the Saudis — even after those responsible for helping oversee the Saudi sovereign wealth fund concluded that such a commitment was a very bad idea.

From the Times’ report:

The problem, of course, is that this isn’t an either/or dynamic. There’s ample reason to be concerned about services rendered and the degree to which Mnuchin and Kushner abused their official positions.

On the former, let’s not forget just how eager Team Trump was to cozy up to Riyadh. As we discussed last month, 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.)

Then, as his father-in-law’s term wound down, Kushner didn’t just prepare for life after a powerful White House role, he also made a series of additional trips to the Middle East, meeting with representatives of countries his newly formed private equity firm would soon approach for substantial financial investments.

Indeed, the Times’ report added that Kushner even hired many of the same officials who worked on the U.S.-backed Abraham Fund to join his private-sector Affinity Partners firm.

It’s not exactly a stretch to question the degree to which Kushner leveraged his White House role to advance his business interests.

The Mnuchin angle is similar. The fact that the Treasury secretary visited the region is hardly shocking: His three predecessors did the same thing. But between 2006 and 2016, U.S. Treasury secretaries made eight trips to Persian Gulf monarchies. The Times found that Mnuchin, however, made at least 18 visits over just four years.

And Trump’s Treasury chief also hired those who worked on the Abraham Fund.

The timeline is also of interest: By January 2021, Kushner and Mnuchin knew their time in office was nearly over. But as some of their colleagues plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, these two apparently had no qualms about engaging in official foreign travel to countries they would soon hit up for cash.

Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that Trump may yet try to reacquire power, adding an additional corrupt dimension to this. When the Saudis wrote sizable checks to Kushner and Mnuchin, they not only might have been rewarding the Americans for their pro-Saudi work, they might also have been thinking ahead about possible opportunities to come in the event of a second Trump term.

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