The Rise Of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's Son-In-Law | KUOW News and Information

The Rise Of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's Son-In-Law

Nov 18, 2016
Originally published on November 18, 2016 7:47 am

Though also a big-time real estate developer, Jared Kushner is many things that Donald Trump is not.

At 35 years old, Kushner is half Trump's age.

He is an Orthodox Jew. Trump has been accused over the course of the campaign of trafficking in anti-Semitic themes.

Kushner is understated. He shies away from the limelight. Neither of those descriptions attaches to the president-elect.

Yet the two men share a trust and a bond that are real. Kushner is reported by several news organizations to be consulting lawyers to determine whether he can take an unpaid role in the new administration.

Anti-nepotism laws may prevent that. But formal title or no, Kushner will likely have great sway in the Trump White House.

MSNBC anchor Steve Kornacki, who covered Kushner's family while a young political writer in New Jersey and later worked for Jared Kushner at the New York Observer newspaper, says his political rise represents a striking turn in fortunes.

"I don't even know the words to describe it," Kornacki marveled on Thursday.

Anyone seeking to understand Kushner's relationship with Trump is pointed to Jared's relationship with his father, Charles Kushner. (Jared Kushner consents to few interviews and declined NPR's request through a spokeswoman.)

The elder Kushner was a developer who made a fortune in New Jersey real estate. Charles Kushner gave generously to charities, hospitals and universities — including $2.5 million to Harvard, which, according to the journalist and author Daniel Golden, won Jared admission despite his modest academic achievement.

Kushner also gave generously to politicians, primarily Democrats. Young Jared was trained to stand before a crowd at fundraisers in the Kushner home and introduce senators by rattling off their accomplishments.

The expectation was that Jared would lead and circulate comfortably among business and political elites. In their hometown of Livingston, N.J., his father described his family as the Jewish Kennedys — respectable children with a roguish father.

Too roguish, as it turned out. A top federal prosecutor caught the elder Kushner in his sights: then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. A grand jury handed up indictments against Kushner for a scheme to entrap his brother-in-law with a prostitute and then blackmail him by mailing the ensuing videotape to his own sister. The brother-in-law had been cooperating with a federal investigation into Kushner's activities.

"Chris Christie's rise in politics in New Jersey was built in many ways on his takedown of Charles Kushner," Kornacki says. "He got national headlines for that prosecution."

Charles Kushner went to jail. Christie would become New Jersey governor. And Jared Kushner, just in his mid-20s, would assume the mantle of leading his family's vast holdings while quietly nursing a grievance.

The Kushner name had been tarnished, so Jared Kushner decided to rebrand. He made the conscious decision to push east from New Jersey into New York City. He bought the Observer -- a weekly read faithfully by the city's elites of media, real estate and finance — a move that gave Kushner an entree into that world.

In 2007 the family acquired a giant complex on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $1.8 billion. His father, out of jail, was technically on the sidelines.

"They overpaid and probably knowingly overpaid for it," Kornacki says, "because it was the exact same idea as the Observer: They wanted something that commanded instant status and recognition."

In 2009, Kushner married Ivanka Trump. She converted to Judaism with her father's support, and the two men enjoyed a warm rapport.

During the campaign, one young Observer writer challenged Kushner in his own pages. Culture reporter Dana Schwartz accused Kushner of giving Trump's "most hateful supporters [the] tacit approval [of his Jewish son-in-law]."

Referring to a re-tweet by Trump during the campaign that featured a photo of Hillary Clinton superimposed over a pile of cash and a six-pointed star, Schwartz wrote, " ... people can play ignorant, blame the corrupt liberal media for trying to 'get' Trump, but it takes only a basic knowledge of world history or an understanding of how symbols work to ... see the subtext."

Trump's message, "whether purposeful or inadvertent, was met with cheers by those to whom that star's message was certainly clear. Mr. Trump's tweet was seen as a winking promise to this nation's worst and most hateful individuals," Schwartz wrote.

Kushner responded with his own piece in the Observer. He invoked his grandparents' experience surviving the Holocaust and vouched for Trump's lack of bigotry. "[T]he worst that his detractors can fairly say about him is that he has been careless in re-tweeting imagery that can be interpreted as offensive," Kushner wrote.

Now Schwartz tells NPR she is if anything more worried, but clings to the hope Kushner will be a moderating force on Trump.

Over the months, Trump relied on Kushner's advice to make changes at the top of the campaign, craft key speeches and think through senior White House appointments.

In recent days, Trump's transition chief lost his responsibilities and standing. That would be Chris Christie — the person who put Kushner's father in federal prison.

A campaign spokesperson and Kushner associates have told reporters that Jared Kushner and his family's history with Christie had nothing to do with his humbling.

But then, Jared Kushner always did speak quietly.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump places great faith in his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The New York Times reports that Trump wants Kushner in the White House, and he's exploring whether he can take a position. It's problematic, though, because even an unpaid job could fall under a law prohibiting nepotism. People are supposed to be loyal to the country above their family. NPR's David Folkenflik has a profile of an understated powerbroker.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Though also a developer, Jared Kushner is many things that Donald Trump is not. He's 35 years old. That's half Trump's age. He's an Orthodox Jew. Trump has been accused of promoting anti-Semitic themes. He shies away from the limelight. The president-to-be would not be described that way. Jared Kushner does few interviews and declined our request through a spokeswoman. Here's what he sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JARED KUSHNER: It's funny. When I think back kind of on starting my career, the last place I thought I would be would be spending a lot of time in Brooklyn.

FOLKENFLIK: This is from a keynote address he gave at a real estate conference in 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KUSHNER: About four years ago, through our different media companies and our venture business, you know, I started noticing that a lot of the kids in the companies were really living and wanting to work here.

STEVE KORNACKI: I think Jared is an unusually polished person.

FOLKENFLIK: That's MSNBC anchor and correspondent Steve Kornacki. He covered Jared Kushner's family as a political reporter in New Jersey and later worked for him at The New York Observer newspaper.

KORNACKI: I've heard so many stories of Jared being groomed from a very young age - really, from from when he was a child - to be playing a prominent role in the business world, in sort of the elite world - in elite circles.

FOLKENFLIK: Kushner's father, Charles, was a developer who made a fortune in New Jersey real estate. Charles Kushner gave to charities, hospitals and universities, including Harvard, which admitted Jared Kushner after a $2.5 million gift, according to a book by the journalist Daniel Golden. And Charles Kushner also gave to politicians, mostly Democrats. The elder Kushner spoke of his family as the Jewish Kennedys with respectable children of a roguish father. Charles Kushner's lawyer once described him this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN BRAFMAN: I think, as everyone knows, Mr. Kushner is one of the most successful businessmen in the United States and one of the great philanthropists of this century.

FOLKENFLIK: That lawyer, Ben Brafman, said those words on the federal courthouse steps in Newark. A top federal prosecutor had caught the elder Kushner in his sights, then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. Here's what Christie had to say about Charles Kushner in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Mr. Kushner engaged in a conspiracy, with co-conspirators, to hire prostitutes to entice witnesses who were cooperating with the federal investigation.

FOLKENFLIK: Charles Kushner had set up his own brother-in-law and intended to blackmail him by threatening to expose him to his sister. Steve Kornacki covered the saga.

KORNACKI: Chris Christie's rise in politics in New Jersey, in many ways, was built on his takedown of Charles Kushner. He got national headlines for that prosecution.

FOLKENFLIK: Charles Kushner went to jail. Christie would become governor. Jared Kushner, just in his mid-20s, led his family's vast holdings and, according to people who know him, quietly nursed a grievance.

KORNACKI: To the extent anybody had heard of the Kushner name at that point, it was a very tarnished name.

FOLKENFLIK: The younger Kushner made the conscious decision to push east from New Jersey into New York City. He bought The New York Observer, read faithfully by the city's elites in media, real estate and finance. In 2007, the family acquired a giant complex on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $1.8 billion.

KORNACKI: They overpaid - and probably knowingly overpaid for it - because they - it was the exact same idea as the as the Observer. They wanted something that just commanded instant status and recognition.

FOLKENFLIK: In 2009, Kushner married Ivanka Trump. She converted to Judaism with her father's support, and the two men enjoyed a warm rapport. During the campaign, one young Observer writer challenged Kushner in his own pages, accusing him of giving Trump's most hateful supporters the tacit approval of his Jewish son-in-law.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSIDE EDITION")

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think that Donald Trump is an anti-Semite?

DANA SCHWARTZ: As an individual, no.

FOLKENFLIK: Observer culture reporter Dana Schwartz appeared on the TV show "Inside Edition" in July.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSIDE EDITION")

SCHWARTZ: His supporters, many of them, absolutely are. And his willingness to continue to wink at them and acknowledge them is horrifying.

FOLKENFLIK: Kushner invoked his grandparents' experience surviving the Holocaust and vouched for Trump's lack of bigotry. In recent days, Donald Trump's transition chief lost his responsibilities and standing. That would be Chris Christie, the person who had put Kushner's father in federal prison. Kushner's associates have told reporters Chris Christie's history with the Kushners had nothing to do with his humbling. But then, Jared Kushner always did speak quietly.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.