"Imagine if Obama did this" has become one of the tiredest clichés of the Trump presidency. But repetition has not actually robbed the comparison of its strength. President Trump has done and said quite literally hundreds of things during his first year in office that Republicans would have lost their minds over had Barack Obama done or said them. Many of these things would have prompted GOP demands for immediate impeachment hearings of America's 44th president.
Let us use the case of Jared Kushner as but one egregious example.
In any other administration, the simple fact of the president hiring an untested and inexperienced son-in-law as a senior aide — a 36-year-old real estate developer with precisely zero political experience suddenly tasked with brokering peace in the Middle East — would have been a presidency-shattering scandal. (Remember how Republicans freaked out when Bill Clinton had his wife, who had many years of actual political experience as Arkansas' first lady, run point on health care?)
Obviously, the Kushner situation is galactically worse than Trump simply hiring a relatively dim relative. Indeed, Kushner (who recently lost his Top Secret security clearance) is also up to his armpits in extremely shady business deals that reek of corruption. In a healthy democracy, law enforcement would already be closing in.
As Alex Pareene points out, the American mainstream media has such an instinctive deference to power that their operating principle on questions like this amounts to "if political elites do it, that means it's not corruption." But Kushner's behavior during his brief tenure as a senior White House official is stretching that to the absolute breaking point.
Let's just run through just a few publicly known facts and see if we can't connect the dots.
1. Kushner's family business continues to be plagued by a bad New York City real estate deal
As this in-depth report from Bloomberg demonstrates, in 2007 Kushner Cos. set a New York record buying the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Ave. for $1.8 billion — all but $50 million of it borrowed. It was an extremely risky deal even before the economy and housing market collapsed and turned it into an economic black hole. They've been losing money on it ever since, covering up the problem by making a frenzy of deals without much more than surface-level involvement, and scrambling to get someone else to pay for a total redevelopment. Oh, and the entire remaining mortgage is due in less than a year, and the latest news is that Kushner Cos. is going to have to buy out Vornado Realty Trust from their 49.5 percent share in the property.
2. The head of the Kushner family business is a convicted criminal
As part of a bitter feud with his brother Murray and his sister Esther, Charles Kushner (Jared's dad) hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law William Schulder (husband of Esther) and film the encounter, which he then sent to his sister. For that he was convicted of tax evasion, illegal campaign donations, and witness tampering. He was sentenced to 24 months behind bars, and served 16 months in an Alabama prison and the rest in a New Jersey halfway house.
Charles is still running the Kushner real estate empire, by the way.
He has also hired two other ex-convicts — Avram Lebor and Richard Goettlich, who were busted for separate "sprawling fraud schemes" — to top jobs in the company. These are not people known for upright and honorable behavior.
3. Kushner's business has received large loans after meeting with businessmen at the White House
The New York Times reports that while Joshua Harris, a top executive at private equity firm Apollo Global Management, was meeting with Kushner to discuss infrastructure policy and a potential administration job for Harris, Apollo also loaned Kushner Cos. $184 million to refinance the debt on a Chicago property. That is three times the average real estate loan for Apollo. After Kushner met with Michael L. Corbat, the chief executive of Citigroup, the bank loaned Kushner Cos. $325 million for a development in Brooklyn. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.
This would all be incredibly damning even if Kushner's family business wasn't suffering through severe financial difficulties. Would big-time New York investors be giving loans to such a struggling business without the White House connection — and hundreds of potential favors that might thus be obtained? It frankly beggars belief.
4. Foreign governments have considered manipulating Kushner through his money needs and lack of experience
Officials in Mexico, China, the U.A.E., and Israel have reportedly considered manipulating Kushner in this way, and it's all but guaranteed that many others have had the same thought. A stupid, arrogant person, in way over his head and carrying around debts he can't repay — it's practically the textbook definition of "espionage target."
Ten years ago, all this would have probably been enough to launch a prosecution of Kushner under federal corruption laws. The "reasonable doubt" standard does not mean "no doubt whatsoever," for obvious reasons. Sometimes a crime is still bleedingly obvious even if there is no smoking gun evidence.
However, since the Supreme Court rulings in Skilling v. United States and McDonnell v. United States — exhibiting the classic character of modern jurisprudence combining callous disregard for the rights of workers, immigrants, or poor people with tender, loving compassion for those of corporations, politicians, or the rich — corruption cases have become nearly impossible to win. The new standard of proof of a clear-as-day quid pro quo is insurmountably high.
But that doesn't mean we can't see what's clearly in front of our eyes. If this were South Korea, where former president Park Geun-hye is facing up to 30 years for "alleged bribery, abuse of power, and other crimes," Kushner would have been hauled up and indicted months ago. It's mere American chauvinism that prevents this from being conventional wisdom.