Why Aren’t Senate Democrats Investigating the Trump Family?

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With three committees they control on the case, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is officially engaged in a serious inquiry into the possible impeachment of President Joe Biden. Key House Republicans, such as Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, have voiced their determination to dig into what they have declared are dubious financial dealings by notorious presidential offspring Hunter and other relatives, including presidential brother James, seeking to somehow link Joe to involvement in their financial dealings. 

Jordan and other would-be GOP inquisitors have declared they know of extensive scandalous Biden family financial activity. But while sometimes noisy, initial House Republican efforts to seriously investigate such purported malfeasance have proceeded erratically at best. In a status report interview last April with the right-wing website Newsmax, Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, with Jordan a designated leader of the House GOP Biden inquisition, declared that his committee believed it already had evidence linking nine Biden family members to alleged influence peddling. Comer told an interviewer for the Newsmax TV feed that the “family business” of Biden’s circle “appears to be influence peddling.”

But at the first impeachment-related hearing Jordan’s Oversight Committee convened in late September, one of the Republicans’ own legal experts said evidence justifying Joe Biden’s impeachment so far was limited. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Comer’s committee that he did not believe the evidence he had seen at that point justified impeachment proceedings against Biden, though he suggested there was sufficient evidence for Congress to begin an inquiry, citing questionable statements Joe Biden had made about business deals.

House Democrats, led by crusading Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, have been doing their best to counter these allegations. But meanwhile, there’s another way that Democrats could be countering Jordan and Comer: They could hold congressional investigations and hearings on Trump scandals. Some Democrats have been discussing this, but if you’re looking for them to move on it, you shouldn’t be holding your breath.

“A couple of reasons,” argued a Democratic source. “One, Democrats simply have other priorities, including a robust policy agenda, that they want to focus on. And two, there’s no evidence to suggest that additional investigations of Trump would damage or influence his political prospects. In fact, the opposite is likely true. He is already under indictment in three separate places—what other evidence could senators help to uncover that he is manifestly unfit for office? Partisan attacks from Congress would likely only cause his base to further rally around him. And for what it’s worth, there’s no evidence that the House Republican partisan stunts attacking the president’s family are actually doing anything other than showing what a devoted family man our current president is—a stark contrast from his thrice-married predecessor.”

Not all Democrats agree with that, and if the party were to launch some Trump probes, given who has committee control, the most obvious venue for such hearings would be a Senate committee or subcommittee like a Judiciary subcommittee headed by Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse. A source in close contact with Trump critics on Capitol Hill says that it’s Raskin, a member of the House, who has been leading the way collecting information on Trump and his scams. The source said Democratic investigators had assembled 400 pages’ worth of evidence related to alleged personal financial dealings that Trump daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, reportedly engaged in while they were both on the government payroll, ostensibly serving as aides to Ivanka’s daddy.

In a dossier published last February, the public interest group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, reported that an analysis it had conducted of Jared and Ivanka’s official financial disclosures revealed that while they were working at the White House, they reported between $172 million and $640 million in outside income. To try to counter possible accusations of nepotism, Jared and Ivanka announced they would not take salaries while working in government.

CREW reported that a “major factor” in outside profits Ivanka and Jared collected while working out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was income they received from the Trump Hotel, the historic former Post Office headquarters building located a few blocks away from the White House. CREW said that before hotel business dried up during the Covid pandemic, Jared and Ivanka paid a combined total of 23 visits to the hotel and that Ivanka took in more than $13 million from the hotel between 2017 and 2021, though her receipts dropped from around $4 million a year between 2017 and 2019 to about $1.5 million in 2020, at least in part due to Covid.

A final financial disclosure report filed by Jared before he left the White House showed that he held onto his stake in a controversial real estate technology company called Cadre the whole time he worked for the government. The New York Times reported that during the last two years of the Trump administration, Cadre had paid out more than $100 million to investors following the sale of apartment buildings in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta that it had purchased only a few years earlier. But the Times reported that the Cadre investment raised questions, partly because Jared initially failed to report his stake in the company in the first financial disclosure statement he filed with the government after becoming a Trump administration official.

In June 2022, when Democrats still held the House majority, Representative Carolyn Maloney, then chair of the Oversight Committee (now headed by Comer) declared that the panel had opened an investigation into whether Kushner had “improperly traded on your government position to obtain billions of dollars from the Saudi government and whether your personal financial interests improperly influenced U.S. foreign policy during the administration of your father-in-law, former President Trump.”

Maloney alleged that while he served as a senior adviser in Trump’s White House, Kushner’s “support for Saudi interests was unwavering,” even though at the time, “the rest of the world closely scrutinized” how assassins allegedly connected to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were involved in the murder in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Maloney noted that not long after leaving his White House job, Kushner formed an investment firm called A Fin Management LLC, also known as Affinity, which then raised $2 billion from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, or PIF, a Saudi sovereign wealth fund controlled by the Crown Prince. Maloney reported that the Saudi fund had gone ahead with this investment despite some Saudi officials’ concerns that Kushner lacked serious investment experience.

Near the end of 2022, not long before the results of that year’s congressional elections gave Republicans their ultra-narrow House majority, Maloney and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, then and now Senate Finance Committee chair, sent letters to the Defense and State Departments requesting they disclose to their committees records related to the role White House–based Kushner had played in making U.S. foreign policy at a time when a Kushner family business was seeking a bailout from foreign governments that the legislators said were seeking to influence the Trump administration. The letters sought documentation related to efforts by Jared and his father, Charles Kushner, who once served a prison term for tax evasion, to secure a financial bailout for New York office building 666 Fifth Avenue.

In a December 6, 2022, letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Wyden and Maloney alleged that in August 2018, a company called Brookfield Asset Management leased the entire 666 Fifth Avenue property from the Kushner Companies for a reported advance payment of $1.1 billion, supposedly covering 99 years’ worth of rent. “This bailout allowed Kushner Companies to avoid an impending default on the property’s mortgage and retain full ownership of the property,” the letter alleged, adding that even after he joined Trump’s White House staff, Kushner had “retained a substantial stake” in Kushner companies, which his father continued to run.

The legislators alleged that Kushner’s “direct involvement in U.S. policy towards Qatar before and after Brookfield’s bailout of 666 Fifth Avenue” created the appearance “that he had used his influence as Senior White House Advisor for personal gain.” Citing public reporting, Wyden and Maloney said Kushner companies had “approached Qatar multiple times” about investing in 666 Fifth Avenue, but Qatar initially declined. Not long after Qatar’s initial refusal to invest in the property, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates instituted what the legislators described as a “punishing blockade” against Qatar. Wyden and Maloney said top Qatari officials reportedly believe that initial support by the Trump White House for the blockade “may have been retaliation by Mr. Kushner for the Qatari government’s initial refusal to bail out 666 Fifth Avenue.”

Wyden and Maloney said that after the blockade was launched, Qatar launched a “charm offensive” to win over the Trump administration. They allege that after the blockade had been going on for two years, Trump administration support for the blockade “evaporated,” not long after Charles Kushner in early 2018 began engaging in discussions with Brookfield about possible “modernization of 666 Fifth.”

After Republicans took narrow control of the House in the 2022 elections, Raskin continued to push for House Oversight, now led by Comer, to conduct Trump-related investigations, though with minimal success. At the end of August this year, in a letter to Comer, Raskin pressed for the committee to issue a subpoena to Affinity, the investment firm led by Jared Kushner whose post–White House activities Representative Maloney had started to dig into. Raskin reported that two years after receiving the Saudis’ investment in Affinity and “tens of millions of dollars” in related management fees, Kushner had made few onward investments. Noting that Kushner and his father had “refused to cooperate” with earlier queries seeking information related to the allegation that Jared’s personal finances may have influenced U.S. government policy when he was on the White House staff, Raskin said that despite multiple requests from himself and Maloney, Affinity more recently had “refused to provide any documents to the Committee,” even though it also asserted it had “nothing to hide.”

After Raskin in an August letter pressed Comer to subpoena Kushner to produce documents about money his firm received from Saudis and other Gulf monarchies, Comer’s committee told The Hill: “Ranking Member Raskin’s letter to Chairman Comer is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the mounting evidence of Joe Biden’s involvement in his family’s influence peddling.” Not ironically, perhaps, in mid-November Comer himself had what TNR’s Tori Otten described as a “complete meltdown” when Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz asked him about a recent Daily Beast report that Comer and his own brother had over the years engaged in various land swaps through family businesses that appear not to really exist. “I’ve never loaned my brother one penny,” Comer insisted.

Some sources said the Democrats are considering retaliative action closer to election time. One source said Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill are “keeping their powder dry” so that if they do decide to seriously engage in scandalmongering regarding the finances of Trump and offspring, they could do so at a “more effective point” during the forthcoming presidential campaign.

These Democrats may be right that the attacks on the Biden family are so weak that they don’t require rebuttal. But somehow, it’s hard to picture the Republicans showing such restraint.