Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home Life Features

Meet Donald Trump's right-hand man ... he also just happens to be married to his daughter

Tenacious campaign manager, adored son-in-law and now with a key role in the White House - Jared Kushner has become Trump's closest ally and most trusted adviser

By Phoebe Luckhurst

It was in the unassuming midwestern state of Illinois that multimillionaire Jared Kushner claims he fully committed to the Donald Trump ticket. In November 2015, while watching Trump address a crammed arena in Springfield, he was convinced, at last, of The Donald's appeal. "People really saw hope in his message," Kushner recounted. "They wanted the things that wouldn't have been obvious to a lot of people I meet in the New York media world, the Upper East Side or at Robin Hood (Foundation) dinners."

Few could have predicted where that night in the arena would lead. On Monday, Kushner became one of the most important figures in international politics. The 36-year-old real-estate mogul, rumoured to be worth $200m, who owns New York's online Observer magazine and, crucially, is Trump's son-in-law, was appointed one of the President-elect's senior advisers.

Like many of Trump's assembled cabinet he has no experience in government. Political commentators are largely aghast, arguing that Trump is violating nepotism laws.

But perhaps his appointment isn't a complete shock. There were several clues that Kushner was being groomed for a prominent position. Last week the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a press release announcing that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had arrived in the US "for talks with President-elect Trump's senior advisers and the Capitol Hill leadership" and that "the discussions will be focused on UK-US relations and other foreign policy matters".

It noted that on Sunday evening Johnson would meet with two "senior members" of the "President-elect's team", Steve Bannon, the former editor of ultra-conservative news site Breitbart, and 'Jared Kuchner' (sic). It is unlikely anyone will misspell his name again.

It is understood that Theresa May's chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, travelled to New York to meet Trump last month, and it is likely that they too met Kushner - the businessman has been at Trump's side since last summer and insiders say that he was, to all purposes, Trump's campaign manager.

Officially Kushner was in charge of digital strategy but he was often spotted stage right during his father-in-law's rallies, inscrutable but always present. New York magazine - which has Kushner on the cover of this week's issue - reports that he was handed control of Trump's mobile phone on election night, and that when Trump met Obama at the White House following his victory, Kushner was spotted crossing the lawn.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first foreign leader to meet the President-elect in November, it was Kushner and his wife Ivanka who were invited into the palatial gold suite at Trump Towers to witness the audience.

"It's hard to overstate and hard to summarise Jared's role in the campaign," billionaire Peter Thiel told Forbes in November, the only major Silicon Valley entrepreneur to have sided publicly with the President-elect. "If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer."

Kushner himself has not yet commented on his new position; indeed, despite having 17,300 followers on Twitter he is yet to tweet at all. Perhaps this puts him out of step with his soon-to-be-colleagues: assuming Trump's communications set the standard for the administration, Twitter will be its preferred medium.

In the New York magazine piece ("The Young Trump: Jared Kushner is more like his father-in-law than anyone realises"), Kushner is presented as bright, though evasive. But if he was indeed the puppeteer of Trump's campaign, then it is likely that he will be just as central to the direction of White House policy over the next four years. So, who is the man who married Trump's eldest daughter, Ivanka, in 2009? And what might his role mean for the future of this administration? Jared Corey Kushner was born on January 10, 1981 to a Jewish family in Livingston, New Jersey - yesterday was his 36th birthday. He is the eldest of four siblings: he has a brother Joshua (who is dating the supermodel Karlie Kloss) and two sisters, Nicole and Dara.

Like Ivanka, Kushner grew up in gilded luxury: his father Charles is also a property mogul, estimated by Forbes to be worth about $1.8bn. Moreover, like Ivanka's father, Charles is a controversial figure: he was imprisoned in 2005 on 18 counts of making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering, and admitted to framing his own brother-in-law by setting him up with a prostitute, secretly filming their encounter, and then sending the tape to his sister to deter them from testifying against him.

Kushner was educated first at Harvard and then NYU. Critics narrow their eyes: he reportedly attained poor grades in high school and Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admissions: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges, suggests the admission might be connected to a donation of $2.5m that Charles Kushner made to the university. It is reported that he also made one-off donations to Cornell and Princeton.

Kushner was a strange fit at Harvard. A college contemporary has recalled that on campus "he wore dress shirts and jeans from the then trendy label 7 for All Mankind". Another classmate recollected that "he didn't do it with a sense of humour. He did it, like, I'm f****** rich".

In the dining hall he read the business pages; for extra-curricular activities he bought buildings in a town nearby, converted them into homes and then sold them off. The New Yorker reports that in doing so he made a profit of more than $20 m.

Apparently, he called his parents every day. He was a member of the Fly Club, a social club considered to be Harvard's version of a fraternity. He started running the family business, Kushner Industries, aged 24, made many high-value property investments in New York throughout his twenties and bought the Observer in 2006 for $10m.

The story currently on the front page of the Observer is entitled "Meet Donald Trump's 19th-century muse", and draws parallels between the game plan of President Jackson and Kushner's father-in-law, claiming that five of Trump's campaign promises were also made by Jackson.

At university he was a casual member of the Institute of Politics, though business was assumed to be his real interest. His personal politics were - until this year - assumed to be liberal. His family's certainly are: the Kushner's were the largest donors to Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign, and reporting on his appointment, The New York Times called him "the scion of a prominent Democratic family". Reportedly, prior to marrying Ivanka, Kushner contributed more than $100,000 himself to several Democratic campaigns.

Therefore, early in the campaign, it was assumed that Kushner must have been deeply embarrassed by his father-in-law's incendiary politics. The Kushners are friends with Chelsea Clinton - she was a guest at their wedding - and her husband Marc Mezvinsky, and are prominent in a well-heeled, elite East Coast social set whose politics are, almost to a man, Democratic. However, last summer he made an uncharacteristically forthcoming address and signalled his entry to the race - on his father-in-law's side.

After Trump tweeted a composite image of Clinton, a six-pointed star that closely resembled the Star of David and a pile of cash, captioned "Most corrupt candidate ever", Kushner published a letter in the Observer titled "The Donald Trump I know" to defend his father-in-law from allegations of anti-Semitism. He made reference to his grandparents, who were survivors of the Holocaust, and endorsed Trump's bid for the White House. "America faces serious challenges," he wrote. "A broken economy, terrorism, gaping trade deficits… Intolerance should be added to that list. I'm confident that my father-in-law will be successful tackling these challenges."

In December, in another indication that he had drunk the Kool-Aid, he told journalists assembled at a business briefing that following Trump on his rallies across America had convinced him of the President-elect's appeal and punctured his privileged "bubble". In October the Observer asked notable real estate executives: "Hillary or Donald?" Kushner's reply? "Family first."

Kushner has committed wholeheartedly to the Trump dynasty. He married Ivanka in 2009. They had dated briefly and then broken up as Kushner's family wanted him to marry a Jewish girl. The couple reconciled on Rupert Murdoch's yacht after Murdoch's then-wife Wendi Deng invited the pair aboard with a view to patching things up (Kushner had met Murdoch through the Observer).

For a time the New York tabloids mischievously nicknamed the pair J-Vanka. The engagement ring was a 5.22-carat cushion-cut diamond and they married at the Trump National Golf Course after Ivanka converted to Judaism - the pair observe the Jewish sabbath, allowing no phone calls or work.

The couple have three young children, Arabella, Theodore and Joseph, and reportedly bought a house a few blocks from what will be the Obama's civilian residence in Washington after the President-elect's inauguration on January 20. They also own a £12.3m apartment at Trump Park Avenue, Manhattan.

He is a chameleonic figure - a friend told the New Yorker "he's really fascinating in that he is a young, boyishly handsome guy who can act and talk like an old man". New York magazine called his position during the campaign "constructive ambiguity".

Notably, he did not give interviews during the campaign, nor deliver a speech at the Republican National Convention (Ivanka, Trump's wife Melania, and youngest daughter Tiffany, a recent college graduate, did). It is hoped, however, that Kushner will temper his father-in-law in office. While he has no experience in government, he is a shrewd and well-connected businessman. During the campaign and in the run-up to next week's inauguration he has served as a discreet go-between between his father-in-law and his own estimable contacts, who include Paul Ryan and Henry Kissinger. Trump listens to few men, but at least he lets Kushner talk.

So far there is little to indicate how he will advise his father-in-law. His brief will be "trade deals and Middle East policy". Yesterday's newspapers reported Johnson and Kushner had "positive but frank" discussions during the Foreign Secretary's visit concerning Russia, Syria and Israel. Kushner is reportedly an impassioned champion of the country. However, precedent from the campaign suggests he'll assume a wider remit.

Kushner will not take a salary and it has been suggested he might have to divest himself of some of his other business interests. "It's not that there are ethical or legal questions here," tweeted political scientist Seth Masket. "It's against federal law for Trump to hire Kushner."

Certainly, it heralds an era of elitist "frat boy" politics. However, The New York Times reported that "Norman L Eisen, chief White House ethics lawyer under President Obama, said he did not believe Mr Kushner's appointment would violate those laws". His path is clear.

Ivanka Trump once told Forbes that her husband and her father "initially bonded over a combination of me and real estate".

Now, it seems, they have a lot more in common.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph