Kushner: What lies behind his placid exterior?
“He was supposed to be the calm one, cool and unflappable under his Ray-Bans and beltless blue bespoke suits,” said David Freedlander in Politico.com. If White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was the fiery anti-globalist disrupter, then President Trump’s handsome son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, 36, was the moderating influence: a soft-spoken Manhattan liberal who would temper Trump’s worst instincts. “Except that isn’t quite how it has gone in the White House.” Last week, as we discovered that Kushner is now “a focus” of the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a picture of “the ‘real’ Jared” began to emerge. It was Kushner who tried to establish a secret communications channel with the Kremlin while President Obama was still in office. It was Kushner who urged Trump to fire former FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation. People who know Jared from his cutthroat real estate days say ruthless risk-taking has always been “part of the Kushner Way: unfailingly polite and urbane on the surface while searching for the soft underbelly to stick the knife in.”
To understand Kushner, said Ted Sherman in NJ.com, you have to look at the family drama that forged him. In 2004, “a family feud of epic proportions” brought down Kushner’s father, real estate mogul Charles Kushner. The scandal morphed from a federal tax investigation into something from TV’s The Sopranos: Charles Kushner paid a prostitute to trick his brother-in-law into making a sex tape, so as to blackmail his brother-in-law and sister into ending their cooperation with federal investigators. Kushner’s father pleaded guilty to 18 felony counts, in a case spearheaded by then–U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. His imprisonment weighed heavily on Jared—who took over the family business, Kushner Companies, and visited his father’s Alabama prison weekly. Determined to restore the Kushner reputation, said Michael Kranish in WashingtonPost.com, Jared made an incredibly risky move that almost sank the family business, paying a record-breaking $1.8 billion for a 41-story office building on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Kushner has spent years searching for investors to save the overleveraged deal—including Chinese and possibly Russian ones. He went out and bought a newspaper, The New York Observer, and editors there said Kushner sought to use its news columns to “strike back” against business rivals and “those he said had crossed him.”
Kushner also has served as a “slumlord” over another, less well known real estate empire, said Alec MacGillis in The New York Times Magazine. His subsidiary company, JK2 Westminster, owns some 8,000 old, run-down properties from Baltimore to Toledo, and its employees have filed hundreds of lawsuits against poverty-stricken tenants for breaking leases or missing rent payments. Kushner stepped d own as chief executive of Kushner Companies in January, but remains a stakeholder in the firm, with trusts worth an estimated $600 million. When one of his old tenants was told his landlord was the president’s son-in-law, he replied, “That Jared Kushner? Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”
By the media’s telling, Kushner is a cold-hearted, “sinister” manipulator, said Howard Kurtz in FoxNews.com. But maybe he’s just a target of resentment for people inside and outside the White House who see him as “a rich kid” with “a glamorous wife” who doesn’t deserve his powerful position. If Kushner erred, it was probably from “naïveté,” said Andrew McCarthy in National Review.com. The “young princeling,” as West Wing rivals call him, has been given a ridiculously broad policy portfolio, including “the holy grail of Middle East peace”—even though Kushner has absolutely no experience in diplomacy or government. His worst crime is probably being completely “out of his depth.”
Nonetheless, Kushner now represents a major liability for Trump, said David Brooks in The New York Times. Our nation’s founders purposely tried to “build a government of laws, and not of hereditary bloodlines.” But Kushner and Trump share a “clannish mentality” in which there is no right or wrong—just fierce loyalty to family. When your clan is under attack, you fight, and seek vengeance against the enemy. “It’s an intensely personal and feud-ridden way of being.” That clannishness motivated Kushner to defend his father and seek to expand his empire, and it will prompt Trump to stick by the husband of his beloved daughter Ivanka no matter what—even to the point of damaging himself. As federal and congressional investigators focus on Kushner, it could lead to the Trump administration’s undoing.