Lawmakers ask whether looming debt left Jared Kushner vulnerable to Russian influence

(ABC NEWS) -- Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether President Trump’s son-in-law was vulnerable to Russian influence during and after the campaign because of financial stress facing his family firm’s signature real estate holding – a Manhattan skyscraper purchased at the height of the real estate boom.

And they are focused, officials told ABC News, on a December meeting Jared Kushner held with executives from a Russian bank.

“It's very peculiar that of all the people he could be talking to in a transition period where you've got lots of balls in the air, that you end up talking to a Russian banker who is under sanction and who is related to Putin and has a KGB background,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “I think the question has to be asked, was this about you trying to get financing for your troubled real estate that you have in New York City?”

The timing of Kushner’s December meeting with executives from VneshEconomBank, or VEB, at the suggestion of the Russian ambassador, has also raised concerns from government watchdog groups across the political spectrum.

Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, (which was founded by Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and funded in part by a Trump mega-donor, Rebekah Mercer), said the meeting “had conflict of interest written all over it.”

“You worry about a quid pro quo, you worry about Kushner getting some financial arrangement from a Russian financial institution, and you worry about White House policy being shaped in a way that benefits either those banks or Russia at large,” Schweizer told ABC News. “That's the concern.”

On Good Morning America on Friday, ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to explain the nature of Kushner’s meeting with Gorkov, but she repeatedly refused to do so.   “Jared has said that he’s willing to go and share whatever information he has,” Conway said. “He actually has made that clear for many months now, and he looks forward to doing that.”

Real estate analysts told ABC News that Jared Kushner’s first major acquisition, a Fifth Avenue office tower signifying his family’s move from New Jersey into Manhattan real estate, is shouldering a $1.3 billion in loans coming due in two years, and it is not bringing in sufficient rental income. An attempt by Kushner to broker a deal with a Chinese company to refinance and redevelop the building fell through shortly after the election.

Thomas Fink, a senior vice president at the firm Trepp, which analyzes commercial real estate, said the Kushner firm appears to be in a sizeable financial hole.

“I don't think they have a billion plus in the bank to just write a check to pay off the mortgage,” Fink said. “Potentially they could sell the building, but you know, what will someone pay for it-- that remains to be seen.”

Kushner, 36, who is married to Ivanka Trump, played a central role in his father-in-law's 2016 campaign and has since taken a job as one of President Trump's senior advisers. Kushner was already facing questions about a December meeting he held with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. when reports surfaced in March about a second contact. The White House confirmed that Kushner met in December with Sergei Gorkov of VEB Bank, but the substance of the previously undisclosed meeting remains something of a mystery.

A senior White House official said that the conversation was "general and inconsequential" and that Kushner took the meeting as part of his campaign role of interfacing with foreign dignitaries. The bank, however, described the discussion to ABC News as "negotiations" in which "the parties discussed the business practices applied by foreign development banks, as well as most promising business lines and sectors."

Gorkov brushed off an ABC News reporter Thursday at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, refusing to answer further questions about the meeting. A spokesman for Kushner referred reporters to a statement issued by White House officials in March, dismissing the meeting as unimportant.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News his panel intends to question Kushner about the meeting in detail.

“This bank is of particular concern, because of course it's the subject of sanctions, but also because Gorkov, the head of this bank, comes out of a school essentially for Russian spies,” Schiff told ABC News on Thursday. “He's someone that allegedly is very close to Putin, and I don't think if this was made at the suggestion as alleged by Ambassador Kislyak, I don't think the choice of Gorkov or this bank was any kind of coincidence.”

Patrick Reevell in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Alex Hosenball, Cho Park and Pete Madden in New York contributed to this report.

© 2017 ABC News


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