On April 2, United States President Donald Trump welcomed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to speak to the nation as part of a coronavirus taskforce press briefing.
It was one of the most high-profile moments the Senior White House Advisor has had during Trump’s presidency, though he has had multiple roles behind the scenes in the administration.
Since marrying into the Trump family over a decade ago, Kushner has grown his personal real estate empire while largely avoiding the spotlight his in-laws have seemingly embraced.
Having been thrust into the public eye by his father-in-law’s political ascendancy, Kushner’s business dealings have received more critical scrutiny.
The rise of Jared Kushner
The real estate industry is a cross-generational profession for the Kushner family, much as it is for the Trumps. Kushner’s father is Charles Kushner, the son of Holocaust survivors, head of a multi-billion dollar real estate company and former convicted felon.
In 2005, Kushner’s father was sentenced to two years in prison (he served 14 months). His crimes included tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.
Charles Kushner also admitted to retaliating against his brother-in-law, whom he was feuding with at the time, by hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Kushner then secretly recorded the encounter between his brother-in-law and the prostitute, then sent the videotape to the man’s wife (Kushner’s sister).
At the time of Charles’ arrest, Kushner was a student at New York University Law School and an intern at the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Prior to law school, Kushner attended Harvard.
It has been alleged that Kushner was accepted at the prestigious Ivy League school despite his poor academic performance in high school. Reports indicate that Kushner’s father pledged to donate US$2.5 million to Harvard in 1998, to be paid out in annual US$250,000 installments.
A year later, Kushner was accepted into the school.
After his father’s arrest, Kushner took over management of the family real estate business, Kushner Companies. At the age of 26, he was responsible for the most expensive real estate purchase in American history, purchasing a 41-story skyscraper on 666 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan for US$1.8 billion.
Kushner’s success in real estate landed him on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list in 2015. His personal net worth is reported to be US$800 million. However, critics have accused him of being an unscrupulous landlord who takes advantage of his tenants and charges unfair fees.
A recent episode of the Netflix documentary series “Dirty Money” about the young real estate tycoon is titled “Slumlord Millionaire.”
Kushner marries into the Trump family
In 2009, Kushner married Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter of President Trump. He was 28 and she was 27 at the time. The wedding featured numerous famous attendees, including actors Natalie Portman and Russell Crowe, the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
At the time of the wedding, Trump was quoted as saying of the couple, “I’m very happy. They’re really a beautiful, smart couple. I think you’ll hear a lot of great things from them in the years to come.”
Prior to the wedding, Ivanka, who had also taken on a role in her own family’s company, expressed her desire to keep their businesses separate.
Ivanka converted to Judaism before the marriage, which has now produced three children.
Kushner’s role in the Trump Administration
Shortly before taking office in January 2017, Trump named Kushner one of his senior advisors.
Though some expressed concerns that Kushner’s appointment would break a federal anti-nepotism law, Kushner’s lawyers argued that the law didn’t apply to positions in the White House.
Ivanka also serves as a White House advisor, but the couple do not take a salary.
During his time in the White House, Kushner has been put in charge of many complicated issues, both foreign and domestic. One of these was spearheading an ultimately rejected peace plan between Israel and Palestine.
Kushner was also named as the head of the newly created White House Office of American Innovation. His responsibilities in that role include fixing government bureaucracy, addressing the opioid crisis and improving veteran care.
For the last few weeks, Kushner has also served as part of the coronavirus taskforce. In a televised press conference on Thursday, April 2, he spoke alongside Trump and other members of the taskforce. Speaking on the issue of medical supply shortages, he criticized some state governors and mayors for not adequately managing their response.
“What a lot of the voters are seeing now,” Kushner said, “is that when you elect someone to be a mayor, or governor, or president, you’re trying to think about who will be a competent manager during the time of crisis. This is a time of crisis, and you’re seeing certain people are better managers than others.”
Conflicts of interest
When initially applying for the security clearance required to work in the White House, Kushner’s application form had numerous errors and omissions. He failed to mention meetings with foreign officials, including representatives of Russia. The mistakes and omissions required Kushner to resubmit the form multiple times over the next year with revisions.
In February 2019, it was reported by The New York Times that President Trump had ordered that Kushner be given a top-secret security clearance, despite resistance from intelligence agencies.
The business dealings of Jared and Ivanka have also come under scrutiny.
Kushner has been accused of multiple conflicts of interest while serving in the White House, such as lobbying for tax breaks that benefit his company.
In a more complex story, reports suggest that a foreign investment in the Kushner-owned 666 Fifth Avenue building was coerced through official US foreign policy.
In 2018, the Kushner Companies owed millions of dollars on the building. That year, Kushner supported an economic blockade of Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the same time his family’s real estate company was attempting to secure an investment with the Qatari government.
Ultimately, the deal fell through and Qatari officials met with the Trump administration in December 2018, although details of what transpired in the meeting are unknown. Qatari officials denied knowing they were investing in a Kushner-owned business and the blockade has yet to be lifted.
Most recently, The Atlantic reported that Kushner has a possible financial stake in Oscar Health, a company attempting to develop a website for COVID-19 testing.
Without a reported official salary, Jared and Ivanka, as White House advisors, reported earnings of US$135 million in 2018.
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