How Jared Kushner became Donald Trump's most trusted adviser
Jared Kushner, the president-elect's reserved son-in-law, will play a major role in his administration. Here's everything you need to know about him:
Who is Jared Kushner?
Ivanka Trump's husband is a real estate developer who, like Donald Trump, inherited a fortune from his father and grew it through daring deals. Kushner, 35, is worth an estimated $200 million. He's also one of Donald Trump's closest advisers and helped engineer his upset victory over Hillary Clinton. "The president-elect knows that the only person Jared is looking out for is the president-elect," says Jason Miller, communications director for Trump's transition team. "He doesn't have any other agendas or motives or fiefdoms. And in the world of politics, that's frequently hard to find." In stark contrast to his bombastic father-in-law, Kushner is reserved, modest, and unfailingly polite. Yet they are described as kindred spirits — men born to wealth who nonetheless see themselves as scorned outsiders with something to prove.
Why is that?
Manhattan's cultural elite has long mocked Queens-born Trump for his gold-plated gaucherie. New Jersey native Kushner, on the other hand, has faced skepticism ever since Daniel Golden's 2006 book The Price of Admission, which suggested Kushner's father, Charles, used a $2.5 million donation to get Jared into Harvard University. "His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it," says an official at Kushner's high school. The book was the second humiliating blow Kushner had to absorb at a young age. The year before Golden's book came out, Kushner's father was sent to prison, after a scandalous trial involving a family feud, sex, and blackmail. (See below.) When Kushner took over his father's business, Kushner Companies, at age 24, he quickly set out to redeem his family's reputation and prove his own mettle.
What did he do?
He expanded into New York City. "He knew early in his career that the way to become important was to get out of Jersey and become a Manhattan developer," says Mitchell Moss, urban planning professor at New York University. In 2007, Kushner put up $1.8 billion in mostly borrowed funds to purchase the 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Ave. — a near disaster when values plummeted after the 2008 financial crisis. But he has found enormous success by investing in office and residential buildings in SoHo, Brooklyn, and other hip, rising areas.
When did he meet Ivanka?
A real estate broker introduced them and they began dating in 2007. "I feel really lucky to have met, like, a great New Jersey boy," Ivanka says. The stumbling block was religion — Ivanka was a Presbyterian and Kushner a devout Orthodox Jew whose parents hoped he'd marry within the faith. The conflict led to a 2008 breakup, but they got back together after Ivanka promised to convert to Judaism. Her future in-laws didn't make it easy, insisting on rigorous study of the Torah. "It was hard and difficult and it was on Charlie's terms," says former Observer Media president Bob Sommer. Ivanka passed the test, and they wed in 2009 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Kushner and Ivanka have three children, keep the Sabbath, and often spend weekends with Jared's parents at their Jersey Shore mansion. "It was understood that marriage meant loyalty to their in-laws," says former Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz, another mentor. "Incidentally, Jared discovered that he really liked Donald." When Trump ran for president, Kushner became deeply involved in the campaign.
How did that happen?
Kushner says he became a true believer last November after watching Trump thrill a packed arena in Springfield, Illinois. "People really saw hope in his message," Kushner says. Convinced his father-in-law could win, he encouraged him to make better use of computer data and social media. Kushner called on friends in Silicon Valley, he says, and "had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook microtargeting." Last summer Kushner built a data hub, which gathered a trove of constituent information to identify possible Trump voters. The data pointed to momentum in the Rust Belt, prompting last-minute rallies and outreach that helped the Republican turn those states red. Kushner "managed to assemble a presidential campaign on a shoestring using new technology and won," says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who assisted the Clinton campaign. "That's a big deal."
What role will he play now?
He has already helped direct the transition as a liaison to his father-in-law, and reportedly helped orchestrate the ouster of original transition leader Chris Christie — the man who had prosecuted Kushner's father. Federal anti-nepotism laws may bar him from a paid post and perhaps even an unpaid one, but Trump has signaled Kushner will nonetheless play a key advisory role and become a formidable force in the Trump White House. Indeed, despite Kushner's utter lack of diplomatic experience, Trump suggests he might ask his son-in-law to broker an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace. "I think he'd be very good at it," Trump says. "He knows the region, knows the people, knows the players."
His father's stint in jail
A flamboyant developer, Charles Kushner, 62, was a major Democratic donor and one of New Jersey's premier power players. But he suffered a spectacular fall from grace. In 2001, his brother learned Charles had used family business partners to make political contributions without their consent. When Chris Christie, then U.S. attorney for New Jersey, launched an aggressive investigation, Charles blackmailed his sister to discourage her from cooperating: He paid a prostitute $10,000 to lure her husband to a motel room, and sent a videotape of the encounter to his sister. "It was like a Sopranos episode," says Kushner adversary Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Charles pleaded guilty to 18 felony counts, including making illegal campaign contributions and retaliating against a federal witness, and was sentenced to two years in an Alabama penitentiary. Jared Kushner took it hard. He visited Charles in prison every Sunday, and came to share his father's belief he'd been sold down the river by jealous relatives and the media. "I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way [prosecutors] pursued him," Jared says.