Media fight Kushners for names of partners in Md. buildings

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2017 7:01 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — News outlets including The Associated Press filed a motion in federal court Friday arguing that a document containing the names of investors in some Kushner Cos. apartment buildings in Maryland should be unsealed and available to the media.

The Kushner Cos. has argued that the privacy rights of its partners in its Maryland buildings outweigh the public interest in the disclosure, saying the media's "politically-motivated" coverage of the case puts those rights — and the partners' reputations — at risk. President Donald Trump's son-in law, Jared Kushner, was CEO of the company before becoming an adviser to the president earlier this year.

The case before U.S. district court in Maryland was brought by tenants alleging a Kushner Cos. subsidiary called Westminster Management charges excessive and illegal rent. The lawsuit seeks class action status for tenants in the 17 apartment complexes owned by the company in the state.

The Kushner Cos. has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In its motion on Friday, media outlets argued the press has a "presumptive right" to see court documents, and that the Kushner Cos. has not raised a "compelling government interest" that the law says is needed to block access.

The AP joined ProPublica, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore TV station WMAR-TV in filing the brief.

Properties owned by the Kushner family have come under scrutiny since Trump became president because of the potential conflict between the family's financial interests and the pursuit of the public good in government policy. Ethics lawyers and good-government groups have argued that policy could be shaped in favor of not just Kushner Cos. itself, but its partners and lenders.

Jared Kushner has filed financial disclosure documents with government ethics officials who oversee potential conflicts of interest, but the disclosures do not detail many of the partners who invest alongside his family company.

In a court filing last month, the Kushner Cos. blasted the media for "unfair sensationalism" in stories about the Maryland case. It said additional coverage triggered by disclosures of its partners' names would hurt the company's ability to get an impartial decision from the court.

The Kushner Cos. also said disclosure of its partners' identities also would trample on their right to remain private.

"Given the tenor of the media's reporting of this case, including politically-motivated innuendo no doubt intended to disparage the First Family, there is foreseeable risk of prejudice to the privacy rights and reputations of innocent private investors," lawyers for the Kushner Cos. wrote in its filing.

The news outlets wrote in their brief that the Kushner Cos. complaints about the media coverage actually undermine its arguments, suggesting there is "significant public interest" in the case, and therefore public scrutiny shouldn't be limited.

Though the Kushner Cos. is known for its New York City buildings, it first struck success with multi-family apartments in suburban communities before venturing into Manhattan a decade ago with a disastrous $1.8 billion purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue, a famed skyscraper that ended up losing money for years.

Earlier this year, the Kushner Cos. and a giant Chinese insurer considering a big investment in the Fifth Avenue office building broke off talks following intense media scrutiny of any possible deal. The insurer has close ties to the ruling Communist party. Critics said that any investment from the insurer could be used as leverage in the White House.

A financial disclosure report released in July said Jared Kushner still owns a stake in Westminster Management, the Kushner subsidiary named in the Maryland case. The report showed he received $1.6 million in income from Westminster.