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The Sales Pitch Incident

 

On May 6, 2017, the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer made a business pitch to more than 100 Chinese investors gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing. 

 

She was hoping to attract $150 million in financing for a luxury housing development project in Jersey City, New Jersey known as One Journal Square.

 

The funds would be provided to the development through the government’s controversial EB-5 investment visa program which provides individuals who invest $500,000 or more in U.S. development projects with a path to U.S. citizenship. 

 

The EB-5 program pre-dates the Trump administration and, in the abstract, there is nothing corrupt about a developer making a pitch to Chinese investors to consider taking advantage of it.

 

However, in this case, two of the key figures who determine the future of the oft-derided EB-5 program happen to be members of the developer's family: Pres. Trump counseled by his senior advisor Jared Kushner. 

 

Moreover, during her marketing event Meyer choose to explicitly highlight the project’s ties to her family.

 

She stated that the project, “means a lot to me and my entire family.” 

 

She also mentioned to the room of potential investors that Jared Kushner had been the head of Kushner Companies prior to taking his position in the White House. 

 

Furthermore, the luxury development project, officially known as One Journal Square, was promoted as “Kushner 1” in marketing material. 

 

Moreover, a slide displayed during the pitch showed Pres. Trump as being a “key decision maker” on the future of the EB-5 investment visa scheme. 

After the event, Meyer was asked whether she was concerned about her brother’s possible conflicts of interest. 

 

She did not answer the question. 

 

Kushner Companies later apologized for the incident saying, “Kushner Companies apologizes if that mention of her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors. That was not Ms Meyer’s intention.” 

Nicole Meyer Used Her Connections to the White House as Part of a Business Marketing Pitch

The empty lot in New Jersey where Kushner Companies plans to begin construction in 2018. Photograph: Corruption Watch.

Published: February 27, 2018

 

Summary

 

  • In the summer of 2017, Jared Kushner's sister, Nicole Meyer, gave a real estate sales pitch to prospective investors in China.

  • The potential investors in Meyer's development would receive an EB-5 investment visa which provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship in exchange for a $500,000 investment in her family's property. 

  • During the sales pitch, she highlighted the project's ties to the White House.

  • Her pitch to the potential investors seemed to imply that, because her family members are currently in the White House, the potential investors should feel more comfortable investing in the project because Jared Kushner and Donald Trump will ensure that no changes are made to the EB-5 visa program, limiting the riskiness of the investment.

  • If this was her intended message, it amounts to a family using the levers of government to ensure the success of the family business, and therefore would constitute corruption. 

  • It also raises questions about conflicts of interest Kushner and Trump face when making decisions about the future of the EB-5 investment visa program. 

Assessment

One could construe Nicole Meyer's sales pitch highlighting the development project's connections to the White House as saying “you can feel safe investing in my family’s project because the president (my brother’s father-in-law) and his senior adviser (my brother) will ensure the controversial EB-5 visa program is not modified or canceled.”

 

If that was the intended message, then this would amount to a family using the levers of government to ensure the success of a family business.

It could be the case that the sales pitch was simply ill-conceived rather than a deliberate attempt to engage in corruption.

 

However, the decision to remove journalists for the New York Times and the Washington Post from the event and tell them that it was a “private event,” despite it having been publicly advertised, possibly indicates an awareness that something improper was taking place. 

 

Moreover, the project’s connection to the White House was highlighted not only in Nicole Meyer’s comments, but also in prepared marketing materials, suggesting this may not have been a simple case of misspeaking in off-the-cuff remarks.

 

It thus appears that Meyer was using her connections to the White House to help market her business venture, and therefore, that she was engaged in corruption. 

It also raises questions about conflicts of interests Jared Kushner, Pres. Trump's "shadow secretary of state," may face in shaping foreign relations with countries his family is fervently seeking investments from. 

And it raises questions about possible conflicts of interests faced by Pres. Trump who has chosen to extend the EB-5 investor visa program, despite his otherwise hardline stances on immigration: when he makes decisions about the fate of the EB-5 program, is it based on his assessment of what is in the best interests of the country or do familial financial considerations affect his judgement?