After reports surfaced that Saudis poured billions into Jared Kushner and Steven Mnuchin’s private equity firms, the watchdog group American Oversight requested information about their Mideast travels. The group sued the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) in a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that the agencies “improperly withheld” the records.
American Oversight’s executive director Heather Sawyer hoped that the lawsuit would help shed light on whether Kushner and Mnuchin tried to profit from their former White House posts.
“These records may shed light on Kushner’s and Mnuchin’s activities in the Middle East, including whether they sought to leverage their leadership roles in the federal government to advance their private business interests,” Sawyer said. “The Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman raised questions about who was benefiting from the courtship, and these records have the potential to reveal answers.”
The group submitted two FOIA requests on July 27, 2022, roughly three months after The New York Times starting publishing a pair of investigations into the billions of dollars steered from a Saudi investment fund into multiple funds associated with Kushner and Mnuchin.
According to the first article, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, led by the Crown Prince, had put $2 billion into Kushner’s then-fledgling private equity firm Affinity Partners, some six months after former President Donald Trump and his son-in-law exited the White House. The Saudi fund reportedly invested half that amount, $1 billion, in Liberty Strategic Capital, which is run by Mnuchin, a more seasoned investor.
The Times reported that the Crown Prince overruled objections by the panel overseeing the fund, which cited the “inexperience” of Kushner’s firm, the seemingly “excessive” proposed asset management fee, and the “public relations risks” of executing the transaction with the Trump in-law.
The following month, the Times published its investigation into the Abraham Fund, established by Kushner shortly before the 2020 election. Pitched as an effort to capitalize on the Abraham Accords, the fund reportedly “vanished” when Trump left office.
Highlighting the pair of articles, American Oversight cast a wide net for more information.
American Oversight’s request to the Treasury Department demanded all emails, texts, social media and messaging app communication sent Mnuchin, then-Deputy Chief of Staff John Baylor Myers, or then-Deputy Chief of Staff Zachary McEntee during Mnuchin’s delegation to the Middle East between Jan. 5 and 11, 2021. The watchdog also wanted records of all reimbursements and itineraries or agendas for the Treasury officials taking part in the delegation.
The FOIA request to DFC sought all emails, texts, social media and messaging app communication sent by DFC’s Chief Executive Adam Boehler during any delegation to the Middle East that Kushner led or took part in between November 2020 and January 2021.
Those included a trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar that began on Nov. 30, 2020 — and another to Israel and Morocco that began on Dec. 21, 2020. This second FOIA also included requests for records disclosing reimbursements and itineraries or agendas.
American Oversight says that both agencies failed to respond. The watchdog wants a federal judge to order the agencies to search for and turn over any responsive records that aren’t exempt.
Read the lawsuit here:
[Image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
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