This is the weirdest story: the sale of the Miami Marlins to a group led by Joshua Kushner and the Kushner family may fall through because Jeffrey Loria is in line to become the next U.S. ambassador to France.
To say that what began as an interesting sale of the team has become a major national political story is an understatement, and some background is in order. It’s no secret that Loria has been seeking to sell the Marlins, with the transaction to close after this year’s MLB All-Star Game at Marlins Park. Loria was previously a partner in the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers with, among others, New York City real-estate developer Charles Kushner. So it was no surprise when the news broke that venture capitalist Joshua Kushner (Charles’ son) and Joseph Meyer (Charles’ son-in-law) were negotiating to buy the Marlins. The Kushner family has a love of sports that extended into efforts to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.
One big problem: Joshua Kushner and Meyer can’t possibly raise the $1.3 billion needed to buy the Fish, as Joshua Kushner’s net worth is estimated at $200 million or so. (On the other hand, the family’s net worth is estimated as $1.8 billion, half tied up in real estate with other considerable illiquid investments.) Their solution: buy the Marlins and then bring in investors after the purchase. (Not quite sure how this would fly in the commissioner’s office.) This lets them get around the fact that Charles Kushner pled guilty in 2004 on charges of tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering, spending two years in jail. That would probably disqualify him from buying the Marlins outright when it comes to MLB approval.
So while the Wimpy sales mechanism — I’ll pay you tomorrow for a baseball team you sell me today — was already causing problems in the process, another problem emerged: Loria’s potential ambassadorship to France. Joshua’s older brother is Jared Kushner, a close adviser to President Donald Trump who happens to be married to Ivanka Trump. Naming Loria as ambassador while selling the team to a family closely tied to the presidency is a quid pro quo of epic proportions, especially with the sales price of the Marlins reduced from $1.6 billion to $1.3 billion in recent days. (Which is still considerably more than many in baseball would value the team.) Now, this put all involved in an awkward spot, and saner heads prevailed: the Kushners are passing on the deal, for here. Here’s a statement released by Meyer to the Washington Post:
“Our family has been friends with Jeff Loria for over 30 years, been in business together, and even owned a AAA baseball team together. Although the Kushners have made substantial progress in discussions for us to purchase the Marlins, recent reports suggest that Mr. Loria will soon be nominated by the president to be ambassador to France.
“If that is true, we do not want this unrelated transaction to complicate that process and will not pursue it. The Kushners remain interested in purchasing a team and would love to buy the Marlins at another time.”
This deal, though, may be revived sooner than later, as Loria’s appointment as ambassador to France is being threatened by, well, politics. The White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in the midst of a spat regarding ambassadorships: Tillerson wants final say over the appointments, but the White House has been making its own decisions, such as proposing New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as ambassador to the United Kingdom. The New York Post is reporting that Tillerson views these appointments as problematic:
“Tillerson had a deal that if he were to come on board, he would have a decision on who the ambassadors were going to be,” a transition source said.
“The process was supposed to be where transition was going to give two names for each position and Tillerson was going to interview those people for each country — and Tillerson would make the decision,” the source explained.
But [Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus is using his Oval Office access to get President Trump to sign off on a list of some of the most desirable diplomatic postings, angering State Department officials, multiple sources confirmed.
Now, it’s not unusual for presidents to reward large campaign donors with plum ambassadorships, and Loria did contribute $125,000 to the Trump campaign last September. The Post also reported that some of these choices were “problematic” and could pose issues; the White House reportedly made the choices before vetting all the candidates.