Ivanka Trump’s husband wields extraordinary influence in the Trump sphere.
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law, is now serving as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. Though Jared did not have an official role during Trump’s campaign, he was nevertheless seen as a “de facto campaign manager,” and he later served as a member of Trump’s transition team. The New York Times reported in November that Jared was exploring ways to join the Trump administration without breaking the federal anti-nepotism law and he was cleared by the Justice Department to serve in the administration in January. CNBC reported that Kushner would be resigning from his role as CEO at Kushner Companies and divesting his “substantial assets,” including his stakes in the Observer, where he served as publisher. Jared is one of the most influential people in Trump’s circle. He has been called someone who “enjoys a Rasputin-like power” with Trump. Here’s what you need to know about Jared Kushner:
1. His White House transition has reportedly been difficult.
Jared is considered to be part of the “power center” in the White House, reports the Washington Post, along with Steven Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Reince Priebus. But in the early days of the administration, Kushner appears to have gotten caught up in some workplace politics. Sources told the Washington Post that observers “have been alarmed by Kushner’s efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump’s chief consigliere.” According to Vanity Fair, Jared’s adjustment to Washington has been tough. “Kushner appears unable to control both his father-in-law and those around him,” writes Emily Jane Fox. A source told Fox that Jared’s influence on Trump “may be flagging.” After Jared successfully negotiated a meeting with Mexico’s president, Trump canceled it, leaving Jared “fucking furious.” Not only that, Jared isn’t looking so great these days, according to Fox’s source. “His body language and his demeanor toward Trump had changed, and he had lost a noticeable amount of weight from his already slight frame in just a week.”
2. He has no prior experience in government or politics.
Apart from a semester as a member of the Institute of Politics during his freshman year at Harvard, Jared has not been engaged politically. While visiting the White House after the election, Jared reportedly asked, “How many of these people stay?” (Answer: Pretty much none.) Though comparatively inexperienced in politics, Jared has proved to be a quick study. “Honestly, Jared is a very successful real estate person, but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate,” Donald Trump said at a rally. “But he’s very good at politics.”
Jared’s personal political leanings are harder to identify. He fully backs his Republican father-in-law and publishes a newspaper that has become more conservative in its leanings since he purchased it. But he has stated in the past that he admires Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, and has a framed photo of John F. Kennedy, another Democrat, by his desk. Trump has said Kushner will help broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, telling him at a pre-inauguration, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”
3. He was born into wealth.
Jared’s father, Charles “Charlie” Kushner, founded the real estate development organization Kushner Companies in 1985 and built it into a billion-dollar enterprise. Jared had a correspondingly privileged upbringing in New Jersey. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Daniel Golden, Jared benefited from the incredible advantage of being his father’s son. Though he did not perform especially well academically, Jared was accepted to Harvard, reportedly after his father gave $2.5 million to the university. While at Harvard, Jared reportedly drove a Range Rover (though he has said that he “didn’t have a car” in college). About driving that Range Rover though: “He didn’t do it with a sense of humor,” a classmate told the New Yorker. “He did it, like, ‘I’m fucking rich.'”
4. He is an Orthodox Jew.
Jared’s wife, Ivanka Trump, converted to Judaism from Presbyterianism before the couple’s 2009 wedding. Religion — specifically, the Kushner family’s objection to the fact that Ivanka wasn’t Jewish — was reportedly one of the reasons for their brief breakup in 2008. Now, the couple are shomrei Shabbos. They observe the Sabbath, turning off cell phones and walking instead of driving between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. Jared did make an exception in early October, when he joined a team of Trump advisers on a Saturday to deal with the fallout of the Access Hollywood tape. He and Ivanka also received an exemption during Inauguration weekend so that they could participate in the evening celebrations.
5. He professes that Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite or a racist.
In July, when Trump tweeted (then deleted) an image from a white supremacist web forum of Hillary Clinton that featured the Star of David and the phrase “most corrupt candidate ever,” Jared defended his father-in-law in his newspaper, the Observer. “It’s that simple, really,” he wrote. “Donald Trump is not anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist.” In the piece, Jared revealed the story of his grandparents, Holocaust survivors from Poland who emigrated to the United States in 1949. His family members called him out on Facebook for it. “That my grandparents have been dragged into this is a shame,” wrote Jared’s estranged cousin Jacob Schulder, according to Politico. “Thank you Jared for using something sacred and special to the descendants of Joe and Rae Kushner to validate the sloppy manner in which you’ve handled this campaign.”
6. He had to shoulder his family business from a young age.
Jared was studying to get a dual MBA and law degree at New York University (Charles’s alma mater and the recipient of another notable donation of $3 million) when his father was sent to prison for tax fraud, witness tampering, and illegal campaign donations. Jared took over Kushner Companies as CEO in 2008 when he was 27 years old, abandoning his legal aspirations. “My dad’s arrest made me realize I didn’t want to be a prosecutor anymore,” Jared told The Real Deal in 2014. “Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him. I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong. The moral weight of that was probably a bit more than I could carry.” Taking over for his father might have happened sooner than he would have liked, but Jared was fully prepared. Charles had been bringing along Jared and his younger brother Joshua (now a tech entrepreneur and boyfriend of Karlie Kloss; they were both #WithHer) when he was doing business since they were very young children. While at Harvard, Jared had a successful side gig of acquiring buildings in Somerville, Massachusetts, and turning them over for a profit.
7. He remains incredibly close with his father.
Some suspect that Jared is a figurehead and that Charles actually runs Kushner Companies. Regardless, they work on the same floor of 666 Fifth Ave., a building Jared purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion. At the time, it was the most anyone had paid for a building in New York City. While his father was serving time in Alabama, Jared visited him on weekends. “He was the best son to his father in jail, the best son to his mother, who suffered terribly, and he was a father to his siblings,” Charles told New York magazine in 2009. As a testament to his father, Jared said in the same New York profile, “I speak with my father about everything in my life.” Before she married Jared, Ivanka described the father-son relationship as “really beyond beautiful.”
8. He has many tangled social and political connections.
This is the part where the story gets even more biblical, so buckle up. Charles had, for many years, been a top political donor, giving large sums to mostly Democratic candidates, including Bill and Hillary Clinton (and Rudolph Giuliani too). Charles also gave money to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (the guy who resigned after admitting that his “truth” was that he was a “gay American”). After winning the 2002 gubernatorial race, McGreevey appointed Charles to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Charles’s older brother Murray and a former Kushner Companies accountant brought separate lawsuits against Charles relating to his political contributions. Enter Chris Christie, then the U.S. Attorney General of New Jersey, who launched a criminal investigation. Charles believed that his younger sister Esther Schulder was working with authorities, and he tried to blackmail her by setting her husband up with a prostitute and videotaping the sexual encounter that followed. The trap didn’t work, and Charles eventually pleaded guilty to the felony charges against him. Christie later became the governor of the state, then a presidential candidate, and finally, a top Trump adviser.
9. He played a considerable role in the Trump campaign.
Jared has been credited with masterminding the campaign’s social media operation. Along with Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr., he persuaded Trump to fire former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and to pick Reince Preibus as chief of staff. He has been instrumental in smoothing Trump’s relationships with Fox News, the Republican establishment, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to a report in Fortune, “One aide recalled having a private phone conversation with Trump when he heard Kushner’s voice unexpectedly. Trump was talking on speaker phone, the aide realized, while Kushner was in the room.” On Tuesday, as part of the transition process, Trump began receiving the Presidential Daily Brief, a daily document that only the president, vice president, and select Cabinet-level officials have access to. According to Andrea Mitchell, Trump’s team requested that Jared receive access to the PDB.
10. He seems to have an appetite for revenge.
Recall Gov. Christie’s role in Jared’s father’s downfall in 2004. Now, 12 years later, Jared has avenged his father with a breathtaking forcefulness. It was widely reported that Christie was being considered for the role of running mate; Jared pushed for the selection of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana instead. Christie was later put in charge of Trump’s transition team; Jared again was the agent behind Christie’s eventual ouster from that role. On Monday, Christie loyalist former Congressman Mike Rogers suddenly resigned from the transition team. It was reported by NBC News to be part of a “Stalinesque purge” of anyone close to Christie. In another example of Jared’s reported ability to hold a grudge, staffers at the Observer have spoken about how Jared ordered a hit piece on fellow real estate scion Richard Mack after their business relationship soured. For two years, Jared pushed for the story, but nothing legitimate emerged in the reporting and the piece eventually got killed. Jared denies these claims.
11. He has shown unvarnished disdain for the press.
A former Observer editor told the New Yorker that Jared “hates reporters and the press. Viscerally.” He blames the New Jersey media for damaging his family’s reputation. He even said that he didn’t like reading the Observer before he purchased it. “I found the paper unbearable to read, it was like homework,” he told New York. Jared also doesn’t think the mainstream media had any bearing on the Trump campaign. One source told Bloomberg Businessweek that, “One thing Jared always tells Donald is that if the New York Times and cable news mattered, he would be at 1 percent in the polls.” Still, he was rumored to want to start a Trump television network after the election.
12. He is intensely private.
Jared rarely gives interviews and has no social media presence of his own other than a Twitter account that has zero tweets. When he appears on social media, it’s through Ivanka’s Instagram, and he is usually pictured holding one of their three children: Arabella, 5; Joseph, 3; and Theodore, 7 months.
13. He is genteel.
Hardly a story has been written about him that doesn’t reference his politeness, or the fact that he is soft-spoken and well-behaved. “I’ve never seen any kind of erratic behavior from him,” real estate lawyer Robert Ivanhoe told The Real Deal. The publicist Peggy Siegel gushed to Vanity Fair: “Besides being devastatingly handsome, he is well mannered, well bred, and so well turned out.”
14. He and Ivanka like to talk business.
The meet-cute story Ivanka most often tells is that she and Jared met for the first time because a mutual acquaintance thought it would be good for them to know each other professionally. They fell for each other, and now they refer to it as “the best deal we ever made!” When asked in 2015 by the New York Times if his wife was involved in his business, Jared said, “She’s a great sounding board.” They support each other’s work lives: “I’m happy for him when he is in the office working late,” Ivanka told New York. “I know how good that feels when you sit down and return e-mails.” In a Vogue profile, Ivanka shared a story about one of her date nights with Jared. “So, my husband’s idea of a date night somehow always involves me looking at one of his development sites.”
In that same Vogue story, Jared said, “I would say she is definitely the CEO of our household, whereas I’m more on the board of directors. We both pick up slack for each other where it’s needed, but she doesn’t want to outsource mothering, so she’s very involved.”
15. He expresses pride in his growing family.
Jared appears to be a hands-on father from the occasional images of him with his children on social media. “You see in life that things can be taken from you, whether it’s money, status or freedom,” Jared told the Guardian in 2008. “But the things that can’t be taken are the things that are most important to work to achieve, such as love and family and friendships.” Jared has also expressed his support for his wife. “She always has it in her to accomplish whatever she puts her mind to,” he said in a promotional video for Ivanka’s #WomenWhoWork campaign. The feeling is mutual. “He’s a bit of a hero of mine,” Ivanka told New York. “His ability to remain focused — he lacks an anxiety that’s natural for someone his age handed so much responsibility. Sometimes I catch myself looking at him and being thankful that I have grown to a level of personal maturity that I would value so much the qualities he has.”
16. His family was negotiating a $400 million real estate deal with a Chinese firm.
Jared’s family’s New York real estate company was in negotiations to sell a stake in its Fifth Avenue flagship skyscraper to a Chinese insurance company, according to the New York Times. The insurance company, called Anbang Insurance Group, has ties to families of the Communist Party, and the results of the deal could have potentially presented a conflict of interest. While Jared, senior adviser to Trump, would be helping to oversee American foreign policy, his family would have been receiving financial gains from a Chinese company. When asked about the deal, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, “Jared went through extraordinary lengths” to comply with conflict-of-interest rules. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks also said Jared had sold his interest in the building to a trust in which no one in his immediate family is a beneficiary. The New York Times also reported that a spokesman for Anbang said in a statement there was no agreement and “there is no investment from Anbang for this deal.” Now the New York Times has reported that the deal has fallen apart.
17. He will run a new White House Office of American Innovation.
Trump tapped his son-in-law to head up a new office focused on fixing U.S. bureaucracy through business-world ideas. “Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements,” the Washington Post reported. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens,” Kushner said. Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, and Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk are among the business leaders who will work with this new office.