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March 20, 2019

Those who have been keeping up with Jared Kushner, his family real estate development business, and their $1.8 billion purchase of a Manhattan building don't have the full story, Kushner's father, Charles, writes in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday night.

Kushner took over management of Kushner Companies in 2008, after his father went to prison for tax evasion and witness tampering. In 2007, Kushner Companies purchased 666 Fifth Ave. in New York City for a record $1.8 billion, thinking "the parts of the 1.5-million-square-foot building were worth more than the whole, and splitting it into retail and office components would create value of more than $2.5 billion," Charles Kushner writes.

The global financial crisis hit the next year, and "projected office rents for 666 Fifth Ave. were cut in half," Kushner said. Still, they managed to structure the debt so they could sell off half the retail component, and last year the company completed a $1.3 billion, 99-year land lease to Brookfield Asset Management. Charles Kushner denied reports that the company was ever on the brink of collapse, and that he sought foreign money to pay off a $1.2 billion mortgage.

Charles Kushner praised his son, who left the company in 2017 to join the Trump administration as a senior adviser. Jared has divested from more than 80 partnerships "at a substantial financial sacrifice," Kushner said, and his "service to the country has brought unprecedented scrutiny of the Kushner Companies" and because of that, "we have passed up many business opportunities that we normally would have pursued." Read the entire op-ed at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

10:34 a.m.

Boris Johnson is the heavy favorite to take over as the United Kingdom's next Prime Minister, and, what with Brexit and all, he probably won't have much time to relax.

For Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, that means he won't get to ... paint as many buses as he'd like. Johnson revealed in an interview with the U.K.'s Talkradio that he blows off steam by taking wooden crates and transforming them into a wholesome scene — as he puts it, he paints passengers "enjoying themselves on the wonderful bus." Johnson seemed slightly reticent to divulge this personal information when first asked, but he gradually increased his enthusiasm while discussing the subject.

Johnson's buses would apparently get some brownie points from environmental activists, as well; he's eager to point out that he models them off the low-carbon buses on the streets of London. Tim O'Donnell

10:25 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly still has his eye on a run for Senate — and the White House.

At a private dinner this spring, when asked if he has considered running for president, Pompeo said "I have," Politico reports. Pompeo attended this event with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who Pompeo reportedly pointed to and said, "And I might be running against that guy."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly lobbied Pompeo to run for Senate in Kansas next year to replace Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who is retiring. Pompeo in February said of this potential Senate run, "It's ruled out. I'm here. I'm loving it."

But Politico cites Pompeo's confidants as saying that's actually not true; the run reportedly isn't ruled out at all, and Pompeo is still "quietly evaluating the next steps in his political career," with this 2020 Senate bid potentially being a step toward a White House run. McConnell himself remains enthusiastic about Pompeo running for Senate, telling Politico, "he’s still my first choice" although "I doubt the president would agree with that."

Still, some Republicans are urging Pompeo to stay where he is at the State Department, with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) telling Politico, "We need to see stability." Brendan Morrow

9:56 a.m.

Ethics issues continue to shroud the Trump family, The New York Times reports.

The Trump administration has worked to reverse course on the Obama administration's efforts to protect the Boundary Waters, a pristine wilderness area in Minnesota, from a copper mining project near the area. But the renewed leases are being scrutinized after the revelation of a personal connection between Andrónico Luksic, a Chilean billionaire whose family controls the mining conglomerate attempting to renew leases for its operations in Minnesota, and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Shortly before President Trump entered the Oval Office, Luksic purchased a $5.5 million house in Washington, D.C. to add to his personal investment portfolio. Within a week, Kushner and Ivanka Trump had reportedly worked out an arrangement to rent the home. The Wall Street Journal first reported about the home in 2017, while Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Luksic's conglomerate that is seeking the leases in Minnesota, was suing the federal government. Twin Metals has since increased its lobbying efforts. That's raised ethics concerns, both from environmental groups seeking to protect the Boundary Waters and Democrats in Congress, the Times reports.

For example, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, argued in a letter that the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture both "blatantly ignored scientific and economic evidence," while also mentioning the "interesting coincidence" surrounding the rental agreement.

Rodrigo Terré, chair of Luksic's family investment office, said the arrangement is nothing more than a simple real estate transaction, unrelated to the Minnesota mine. A spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior also said Kushner and Ivanka Trump have not been involved in discussions. That hasn't helped alleviate everyone's concerns, though.

"There may be nothing wrong," Arthur Andrew Lopez, a former federal government ethics official, said. "But it doesn't look good." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:49 a.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) plans are starting to pay off.

Just a day ahead of her headlining spot in the first Democratic debate, Warren topped a primary poll of members of the progressive group MoveOn, released Tuesday. She earned 37.8 percent support among MoveOn members, putting her 21 points above the second-place challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), NBC News reports.

With Sanders in the pool, Warren's rise is a bit surprising. The progressive MoveOn members chose Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he came in third behind "undecided" and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke in a 2020 poll conducted in December. Now, just two percent of MoveOn members say they're undecided on their first choice for a Democratic contender.

While the MoveOn poll is bad news for Sanders, it's even worse for former Vice President Joe Biden. He got 14.9 percent support from MoveOn members — a far cry from his usual top billing. He'll face off against Sanders on Thursday night's NBC debate of 10 Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Warren will be the undisputed leader in her Wednesday night appearance, with O'Rourke her closest competitor.

The online poll was emailed to MoveOn members, who responded from June 17 to 21. No margin of error was reported. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:48 a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly preparing for the first Democratic debate by boning up on old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) clips.

Biden and Sanders, the top two candidates in most Democratic primary polls, have been placed together in the second night of primary debates this week, and CNN reports the former vice president has been "viewing some of Sanders' exchanges with [Hillary] Clinton in 2016" and "trying to acquaint himself with Sanders' style."

Numerous campaign advisers who spoke with CNN said they're cautioning the candidates against directly attacking their fellow Democrats, and Sanders told CNN that he expects the debate to be "friendly" while promising that they'll be "debating the real issues facing the American people" and not getting "into personal controversy and gossip."

That doesn't mean there will be no engagement between the candidates at all, though, as Sanders added that "we are going to be contrasting our views with other people." That should include Biden, who Sanders has taken some recent digs at, in April interview encouraging voters to "take a look at my record versus" the former vice president's. This possible confrontation between the race's two frontrunners is set for June 27. Brendan Morrow

8:50 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an address on Tuesday criticized President Trump's newly-imposed sanctions as "outrageous and idiotic" — and that's not all.

Trump on Monday signed an executive order imposing what he called "hard-hitting" new sanctions on Iran following its shooting down of a U.S. drone, saying the sanctions would deny Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others "access to key financial resources and support."

On Tuesday, Rouhani responded by saying the White House has become "mentally crippled," The Washington Post reports, also saying the administration is "afflicted by mental retardation," The Associated Press reports. The sanctions, Rouhani said, represent the Trump administration's "certain failure," and he asked, "You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks?"

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman additionally warned that the sanctions indicate "the permanent closure of the doors of diplomacy," the Post reports. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, meanwhile, says that Trump has "held the door open to real negotiations" and that "all that Iran needs to do is walk through that door." Brendan Morrow

7:57 a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden came under fire last week for his comments about working with segregationists, but likely Democratic primary voters don't seem to much care.

Biden at an event recently touted his past ability to work with segregationist senators with whom he disagreed like James Eastland, saying they were able to get things done and that back then, "at least there was some civility." Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on Biden to apologize, but Biden doubled down, saying Booker is the one who should offer an apology.

Now, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 41 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said Biden's comments about working with segregationists would make no difference in their vote. In fact, 29 percent said it would actually make them more likely to vote for him, compared to 18 percent who said it would make them less likely to do so.

Overall, Biden's position at the top of the newest Morning Consult tracking poll has not changed at all since last week. In the survey taken from June 17 through June 23, he's still leading the pack with 38 percent support, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in second place with 19 percent. Biden's segregationist comments were made on June 19. Morning Consult for the poll spoke online with 16,188 registered voters who say they may vote in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Biden's comments have also not had much of an effect on black voters, according to the Politico/Morning Consult poll, as 30 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for him now, while 27 percent said it didn't make a difference and 20 percent said they're less likely to vote for him. Noting Biden's unchanged status in the race after a controversy-filled week, pollster Nate Silver observed, "you'll rarely go wrong by discounting how much the media controversy of the week will move the numbers." Brendan Morrow

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