Like just about everybody else in the world, most U.S. presidents have an embarrassing relative or two waiting in the wings.
But while we common folk only have to put up with Crazy Uncle Louie or Inappropriate Cousin Laura at holiday gatherings, kinfolk behaving badly can be a real problem for occupants of the Oval Office.
Since everything about Donald Trump seems louder and more garish than anyone who has held the office of the presidency before him, it’s not surprising that his relatives would be the most embarrassingly audacious ever – even topping Bill Clinton’s brother-in-law Hugh Rodham, who collected some $400,000 for trying to influence presidential pardons.
Last week, only hours after Trump signed legislation extending a controversial program that offers residence visas and a path to citizenship to foreigners who make substantial investments in commercial projects, his son-in-law’s sister was in Beijing peddling stakes in a Jersey City real-estate development project to wealthy Chinese investors.
As The New York Times reported, Nicole Meyer, sister of White House adviser and Ivanka Trump husband Jared Kushner, was trying to drum up $500,000 investments in a luxury high rise that is part of a $1 billion project of the Kushner Companies. Jared Kushner has stakes in the company through a series of trusts, the Times said, pegging their value at as much as $600 million.
At the event in Beijing (there was a second in Shanghai), from which reporters for the Times and The Washington Post were ejected, Meyer mentioned her brother and had a photo of Trump prominently displayed. Bloomberg News, which says the Jersey City project is facing financial headwinds, called it “a not-so-subtle signal that hers is a family company with connections.” Kushner Companies has since apologized, and on Friday the real estate firm said that its employees would no longer participate in events in China this month, though it will continue seeking investors.
Exploiting family connections is nothing new, however. That’s one of the kin sins we have almost come to expect from a president’s extended family. Here are some of the other notable walking embarrassments with ties to past occupants of the White House:
Neil Bush. George W.’s younger brother was involved in questionable financial dealings starting in the 1980s, when he was embroiled in the savings and loan crisis as a director of Silverado S&L, which suffered a $1 billion collapse. He also said in 2004 divorce proceedings that he hoped to collect $2 million acting as a consultant for a company started by the son of a former Chinese leader, and admitted to having sex with prostitutes who showed up at his hotel rooms in Hong Kong and Taiwan and offered to sleep with him gratis. It is unclear if Neil ever collected any payment from the company, Grace Semiconductor.
Roger Clinton. Bill’s half-brother, a singer and sometime actor, did a year in prison for cocaine possession and received a presidential pardon on the day the former president left office. In 2001, Roger was arrested for drunk driving and disorderly conduct in Southern California. In January 2016, as his sister-in-law Hillary Clinton sought the Democratic presidential nomination, he was arrested again on DWI charges. Roger’s Secret Service code name was “Headache.”
Hugh Rodman. A former public defender and businessman, Hillary’s brother and Bill’s brother-in-law ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994 and lost by a 40 percent margin. He later was pilloried for accepting $400,000 from convicted felons seeking presidential pardons as the Clinton administration was coming to its end in 2001. Both Bill and Hillary pressured him to return the money.
Billy Carter. The hard-drinking, colorful brother of Jimmy Carter ran a gas station in Plains, Georgia, and tried peddling a famously noxious brew called Billy Beer. While waiting for a delegation of Libyans at the Atlanta airport, Billy allegedly urinated on the tarmac, but it was cozying up to the regime of Muammar Kaddafi that got him in real trouble: He was forced to register as a foreign agent for Libya, which gave him what he called a $200,000 loan. In 1979, he went to rehab and died about a decade later at 51.
Sam Houston Johnson. The younger brother of LBJ served on the former president’s staffs throughout his political career but had a self-described drinking problem for most of his life. In 1969 he wrote a book, My Brother Lyndon, which angered LBJ, and he endorsed Republican Gerald Ford over Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976. Sam Houston complained of being kept prisoner in the White House when LBJ was president, with the Secret Service tracking his every move.
Malik Obama. Barack’s now-estranged Kenya-born half-brother, who was best man at his wedding, last month tweeted a document purporting to prove that the former president was also born in Kenya, reviving the “birther” controversy once championed by Trump. Malik also showed up to support Trump at the final debate with Hillary Clinton, and in the photo of him on his Twitter profile, he’s wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.