WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, senior advisers to President Donald Trump, were both fined $200 for missing deadlines to submit financial reports required by government ethics rules, according to documents and interviews.
It’s the second time that Kushner has been fined for late filing as part of his months-long process of divesting pieces of his vast business empire to serve in the White House, a highly unusual occurrence.
In addition, Kushner and Trump, the president’s daughter and her husband who serve as unpaid aides to him, listed vastly different values for some of their joint assets, with some discrepancies of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
Kushner, Trump and other senior officials are required to file personal financial disclosure statements outlining their finances, and those of their spouses, for the previous year. They must also file personal transaction reports shortly after buying or selling real estate, stock or other assets.
But Kushner appears to have had difficulty getting his right. In total, Kushner has made changes to his financial disclosure form 39 times — in many cases in response to questions from the Office of Government Ethics — after receiving an initial 18-day filing extension. By comparison, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who also is wealthy, had made one change to his form as of Aug. 11, one week before he left the administration. Trump herself amended her form just four times.
“It suggests a lack of organization...chaos on the part of the lawyers or the principal,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics lawyer who previously worked for D.C. government and the Senate Judiciary Committee and now teaches at Washington University School of Law. “It’s not the preferred way of handling things.”
Ethics experts and government watchdog groups have complained for months that Trump’s administration hasn’t made ethics a priority, despite his pledge to “drain the swamp” of business as usual.
Kushner and Trump had investments in real estate and other companies worth up to $740 million, according to documents released by the White House in March. Earlier, Kushner announced that he would resign from executive positions at more than 200 entities, divest some companies and transfer others to trusts controlled by his mother and brother.
The Kushner and Trump statements were each last amended July 20 and then quickly certified by the Office of Government Ethics. Some of the information about the forms were flagged by American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group, and confirmed by McClatchy.
“As Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's paperwork mistakes continue to pile up, it is harder and harder to believe this is all a series of accidents,” said Harrell Kirstein, a spokesman for the Trump War Room at American Bridge 21st Century.
The values each of them listed for several of the couple’s joint assets and investments differ by millions of dollars on the reports. Some of the discrepancies in the value of assets can be attributed to their differing start dates — Kushner was appointed Jan. 22, while Trump was appointed March 29 — but others are puzzling.
For example, they assigned different values to a partial stake in a Monmouth, N.J. shopping center with Trump listing the value as less than $1,001 and Kushner listing the value as exceeding $1 million. In May, Kushner sold a stake in this mall for as much as $500,000, but that doesn’t appear to account for the entirety of the discrepancy.
“I can’t think of a good reason why they would differ drastically,” said Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington.
In response to questions, a White House official said that "it is a commonly accepted fact in the real estate industry that minority interests in a building are worth much less when they are sold individually, and not as part of the sale of the property as a whole.” More specifically, the official said, “Jared had held his stake [in the shopping center] as part of a cohesive ownership structure, and the value reflected that. When he separately sold his individual interest, a standard discount was applied to the value to reflect that he was selling a minority interest."
In addition, the complex structure of many of the Kushner Companies’ real estate transactions makes it hard to know whether some deals should have been listed on the couple’s ethics forms.
Neither Trump nor Kushner, for example, listed a $345 million piece of real estate in Brooklyn purchased partially by the Kushner Companies in December 2016, according to a New York City Department of Finance document.
A White House official familiar with the transaction but not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of practice said that neither Kushner nor the trusts controlled by his family had ownership interests in the property, and the reporting requirement is triggered by ownership. Public real estate and corporate documents relating to the deal don’t provide clarity on the matter.
"Confidence in government is largely based on this notion that you don’t have a conflict" of interest, said Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, and is undermined when the financial disclosure statements that are meant to reveal those conflicts are opaque or unclear. “The lack of confidence erodes the notion of democracy and rots the core of self-government.”
Under federal law, when those who are required to file financial disclosure statements are more than 30 days late doing so they must pay a fine of $200, payable to the U.S. Treasury. The late fee can be waived if the White House’s ethics officer determines that the tardy filing was due to “extraordinary circumstances . . . which made the delay reasonably necessary,” including the agency’s failure to notify a worker of the need to file the disclosure report.
Kushner has also filed at least five periodic transaction reports — notifications that he has bought or sold stocks or other assets, according to the documents. These transaction reports are considered late if they’re filed more than 45 days after a purchase or sale; typically, a $200 fine is levied after another 30-day grace period.
It’s in connection with these reports that Kushner has drawn fines. The most recent was assessed on Aug. 28 by the White House under Office of Government Ethics rules. Kushner reported the March sale of undeveloped real estate in Jersey City for an amount between $1 million and $5 million — more than five months after it occurred. The earlier fine involved a transaction that occurred in February involving JCK Cadre LLC, a real estate investment company.
Trump’s form explaining the fine was not immediately available, but she incurred a fee for the same report, according to the White House official. Both Kushner and Trump will pay the fines, the official said.
Late fees are relatively rare; they were assessed on just 3.6 percent of the more than 12,000 periodic transaction reports filed by federal government employees in 2016, according to an OGE survey of all executive branch agencies.