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U.S. President Donald Trump and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner depart the White House on March 15, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner depart the White House on March 15, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters)

"Corruption, Plain and Simple": Kushner Visa Scandal Snowballs

While the White House hides behind more alternative facts, the outrage has seemingly multiplied

Lauren McCauley

The latest White House scandal over the president's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner benefiting from the recent extension of the so-called "golden visa" program continues to dog the administration, despite its best efforts to brush it aside.

The New York Times on Monday revealed that buried deep (pdf) into the spending package signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday was "one sentence that brought a potential benefit to the president's extended family: renewal of a program offering permanent residence in the United States to affluent foreigners investing money in real estate projects here."

The EB-5 immigrant investor visa program, also known as the "golden visa," was part of the controversial sales pitch made by Kushner's family over the weekend to Chinese business people, who were asked to invest $500,000 in the Kushner real estate empire in exchange for preferential immigration treatment.

"The sequence of events offers one of the most explicit examples to date of the peril of the Trump and Kushner families maintaining close ties to their business interests and creates an impression they stand to profit off Mr. Trump's presence in the White House," wrote New York Times reporters Eric Lipton and Jesse Drucker.

Further, as Lipton later pointed out on Twitter, a letter sent in late April from "three senior Democratic senators" to White House Counsel Don McGahn specifically sought information on how Trump and Kushner "have personally benefited and may continue to benefit from EB-5 investments."

When asked by reporters on Tuesday about the conflict of interest between President Donald Trump's decision to extend the EB-5 program and the Kushner family's investor solicitation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: "Jared has no affiliation with that company anymore. He recused himself, sold his interests. That's a question for the company."

But as ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum pointed out afterwards, Kushner has retained "ownership over most of his real estate investments."

And while the White House hides behind more alternative facts, the outrage has seemingly multiplied.

The advocacy group Democracy 21 sent a letter (pdf) to Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), on Monday urging him to "to take appropriate action to ensure that Mr. Kushner's conflicts of interest and appearance of such conflicts regarding his policy responsibilities for matters dealing with China are eliminated."

"Jared Kushner cannot have it both ways," said the organization's president Fred Wertheimer. "He cannot serve as a senior adviser to President Trump with unprecedented policy responsibilities and continue to own extensive business holdings, without facing continuing conflict of interest and appearance of conflicts of interest problems."

Former White House ethics advisor Richard Painter called the Kushner family's name-dropping of Trump and Jared Kushner "corruption, pure and simple."

Others have focused on the extension of the problematic "golden visa" and are using the scandal to call for its elimination or reform.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was sponsored legislation in January to end the program, said Monday that the latest revelations make "crystal clear that the EB-5 regional center program presents a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House."

Similarly, the New York Times editorial board also directed its rebuke towards the president, writing on Monday: "Mr. Trump made restricting immigration, including for refugees fleeing violence, a central plank of his campaign. Yet, he seems O.K. with letting real estate moguls take advantage of a program that sells green cards. In this administration, the interests of the first family and its rich and powerful friends come first."

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