On the final day of Donald Trump’s presidency, he made a controversial move by pardoning Jonathan Braun, a convicted loan shark involved in a large-scale marijuana operation. This act undermined a long-standing federal investigation and revealed potential connections between Braun and Jared Kushner’s family.
Federal prosecutors had been negotiating with Braun, hoping to secure his cooperation in investigating predatory lenders in the merchant cash advance industry. They believed that Braun, as an industry insider, could provide valuable information about predatory lending agreements. However, Trump’s unexpected clemency announcement removed any leverage prosecutors had to compel Braun’s cooperation.
During the nine years that Braun awaited sentencing in the marijuana case, he offered predatory loans to small businesses. Court documents revealed that borrowers who took loans from Braun were threatened, along with their families, for non-payment. Braun was accused of making violent threats to eight individuals and was even involved in a lawsuit where he allegedly pushed a man off a deck in 2018.
One borrower, a real estate developer, reported that Braun threatened to take his daughters away from him. Another borrower claimed that Braun said, “Be thankful you’re not in New York because your family would find you floating in the Hudson.” These stories highlight the extent of Braun’s intimidation tactics.
Shortly after his release from prison, Braun was banned from making or collecting business loans in New York. The state’s Attorney General, Letitia James, accused Braun and others of harming small businesses through high-interest loans and undisclosed fees. In a lawsuit, The court ordered Braun’s companies to cancel the debt owed by thousands of small businesses and repay interest and overage charges totaling millions of dollars.
The New York Times also uncovered potential ties between Braun and the Kushner family. Braun was a member of the inaugural class of the Kushner Yeshiva High School, which received substantial funding from the Kushner family. According to an anonymous source, Braun’s cousin claimed that Braun’s father had reached out to Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father, in the hopes of securing a pardon from Trump. The source alleged that the Kushners played a role in Braun’s release.
Braun’s father also regularly contacted Trump ally Alan Dershowitz, pleading for his son’s release. Federal investigators were unaware of the pardon until it was publicly announced, leaving them furious about the missed opportunity to deal with Braun regarding predatory lending practices.
Despite the mounting evidence against him, Braun maintains his innocence and portrays himself as a victim of the justice system’s unfair practices. He denies ever hurting or wronging anyone. Trump’s decision to pardon Braun raises concerns about his future use of his presidential pardon power, particularly regarding those involved in the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.