One imagines Kushner Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. is marketed towards Trump haters. Author Vicky Ward might not have imagined that there are those who don’t necessarily have contempt for Trump, but are also open-minded about Jared Kushner’s venality. Perhaps if these two forces could meet honestly, they could arrive at something like the truth about Jared Kushner, his family, and his role in the Trump administration.
What emerges in Kushner Inc. is a picture of Jared which is perhaps what you might have thought: He’s vain, callow, and lacks substance. In many instances, Jared Kushner was more about image than substance in terms of his political work. This is not to say that Jared is dull intellectually. Rather, he was just out of his depth and expertise in the White House. Moreover, apparently he is not much of a reader (or writer). That didn’t stop him from grabbing the levers of power, with little concern for protocol.
The Trump Campaign
Ivanka and Jared saw fit to involve themselves in the Trump campaign once it was clear that Trump was going to win the nomination. At this point, they quickly found fault with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and began angling to get him off the campaign. Their efforts began with the hiring of Paul Manafort as campaign chairman. Lewandowski did not survive much longer, at which point he was unceremoniously fired by Trump’s sleazy lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump admitted to Lewandowski that this was at the behest of Jared and Ivanka (or at least, his children, which might have been meant to include Don Jr. as well).
In her discussion of Lewandowski, Ward has no qualms about repeating the ridiculous assertion that he “manhandled” journalist Michelle Fields, though the video shows him merely touching her arm. It is one of the weaknesses of Kushner Inc. that, despite some good reporting, it tends to uncritically repeat long-debunked leftist tropes (more on that later).
Kushner, Inc makes it clear that Bannon was the real professional in the Trump campaign; it was he that helped pull everything together in the final months of the campaign. In fact, one suspects Bannon himself might have been a source for the book, given that Ward frequently gives insights into Bannon’s state of mind during the events in the Trump campaign and administration. In that regard, Kushner, Inc. falls within a certain genre of books about the Trump administration with some insider knowledge, often from Bannon himself, such as Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain.
When Bannon came on the scene, the Trump campaign was so mismanaged that they didn’t even know they were broke. At least Kushner listened to Bannon and allowed him to make the necessary changes:
“It was at that moment that Bannon discovered what Kushner’s colleagues at Kushner Companies already knew: that understanding cash flow statements was not Kushner’s strength. He was not an “in the weeds” person.” (91)
When Trump finally succeeded in his hard fought, brutal campaign for the presidency, it was Kushner and Ivanka that convinced him to make his uncharacteristically conciliatory victory speech. Ward describes the speech as contradictory: “wimpy and tough” (101). At the time, the speech seemed magnanimous, but it was fairly contradictory with everything Trump had said about Clinton prior to the election.
From Trump’s 2016 election night speech:
“Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time. And we owe her a debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division.”
During the campaign, it seemed that Trump had taken a shine to Jared. Certainly Jared had a more hands-on role in the campaign than Trump’s own sons. When there was the antisemitism controversy with the meme of Hillary, described as the “most corrupt,” and in the background was something that looked like a Jewish star, Jared was there to defend Trump.
When Ward uses charged terms such as “greed” and “corruption”, she brings the goods.
Once in office, Trump alternated between expressing a desire to get rid of Ivanka and Jared and forgetting about the issue, letting the status quo continue. Kushner was a thorn in the side of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who felt sidelined as Kushner considered the Middle East to be his personal project. Ultimately, Tillerson would be replaced by Pompeo in 2018, whom Kushner considered more malleable. Kushner, Inc. implies that Kushner was behind the firing of Tillerson. Perhaps Kushner felt that Pompeo would be more amenable to his machinations than Tillerson, who constantly complained (understandably) of being undercut.
Whether the chief of staff was Reince Priebus or John Kelly, everyone sensed that Kushner and Ivanka were creating dysfunction in the administration and shouldn’t be there. Yet no one succeeded in limiting Kushner’s power, nor Ivanka’s ability to influence/ interrupt her father.
Many Questionable Foreign Entanglements
While Ward is fascinated by any connections Jared Kushner and the Trump campaign might have had with Russia, she also explores other dubious conduct with foreign leaders, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Kushner’s dealings with foreign leaders during the campaign and the Trump administration had the whiff of corruption as Kushner Companies was still looking for investors to get them above water in their 1.2 billion dollar mortgage for 666 Fifth Ave. During the administration, there was persistent chatter among foreign leaders, be it Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or China, that there was a financial interest at the top of the Trump administration, and it led back to 666 Fifth Ave. Because Kushner made himself so indispensable to the Trump administration, acting like a alternate secretary of state, this perception of corruption had big implications. Meanwhile the actual secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was sidelined.
Both Jared and Ivanka were fairly cavalier in ignoring conflicts of interest: Jared for his real-estate holdings and his company’s debt, and Ivanka for her fashion brands. Ivanka received trademark approvals from China with suspicious timing, suggesting that she would have been better advised to divest from her businesses while working in the White House.
The usual coverage of the Trump admin was heavily focused on Russia, though in fact Kushner had many more contacts with Israel. In this regard Kushner, Inc. is more even-handed. Ward comments on the extent of Kushner’s contacts with Netanyahu and his advocacy for Israel during the campaign, noting:
“It was as if Kushner viewed Netanyahu as his boss and Obama as his enemy” (117).
Other foreign leaders, for example the Palenstinians, had a similar impression, noting that it seemed as though Kushner were a spokesman for Israel rather than a neutral arbiter. Yet one didn’t hear of “Israeli collusion.”
According to the FBI, there was intelligence “chatter” picked up from foreign countries that the Kushner Companies 1.2 billion dollar debt could be a point of leverage or entrance into the Trump admin. The fact was that the Kushner Empire was on the brink, depending on the fate of 666 Fifth Ave. The building only had about 75 percent occupancy and was considered not to be profitable by any American financial institution–plus the complications of becoming involved with the Kushners scared away investors. Most likely, then, it would be bought by a foreign entity, which introduced conflicts of interest with Jared in the White House.
There were talks of the Chinese company Anbang buying 666 Fifth Ave. The deal was suspicious: the price discussed was almost twice the value of the building, and the company itself was said to be a front for the Chinese government. Again, Kushner was not properly divested from the Kushner Companies holdings; and he was cavalier about meeting with bankers and foreign investors in the White Houses from whom he might have expected financial favors, such Michael Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup. When Ward uses charged terms such as “greed” and “corruption”, she brings the goods.
Kushner was highly congenial to Saudi Arabia in his foreign policy machinations. He developed a bromance with the young crowned prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), with whom he communicated directly on Whatsapp in addition to personal meetings, circumventing the usual protocols, and leaving Rex Tillerson out of the loop.
The Saudis were so confident in their support from the US that they ultimately imposed the Qatari blockade. Emboldened, the Saudis and their allies felt that the US had given them a free hand against Qatar. It was a situation which could have easily escalated into full-blown war. Ward implies that Kushner manipulated this situation as revenge for the Qataris rejecting overtures from the Kushners for financial help. When the Qataris seemed more likely to help financially, Kushner (and in effect the Trump admin) quickly switched sides, to the Saudis’ dismay.
Another motivation for Kushner’s machinations in the Middle East and his cozying up to Saudi Arabia was his animosity towards Iran. Qatar was friendlier with Iran, and therefore in Jared’s crosshairs. The Saudis cut ties with Iran, and were getting friendlier with Israel. The animosity with Iran was based on Jared’s consideration of Israel’s perceived best interests. That Obama even tried to negotiate with Iran was unforgivable both to Jared Kushner and his father Charlie. One can recall the nonstop caterwauling in the conservative media at the Iran nuclear deal during that time of the Obama presidency. Jared’s father Charlie Kushner took great personal umbrage to the Iran nuclear deal, and his son certainly shared his father’s distaste for Iran.
Moving into 2018, when the Saudis balked at helping the US with the costs of rebuilding Syria, Trump and Kushner put out feelers to Qatar. Ward implies that there was a dual interest in money to help the US, but also that Kushner was seeking funding from the Qataris for 666 Fifth Ave. The Saudis were deeply offended by what they considered a betrayal. That the Trump admin was now leaning closer to Qatar left MBS “extremely frustrated” (212).
When a Canadian firm called Brookfield Asset Management, a firm with heavy investing from Qatar, finally purchased 666 5th Ave from the Kushners, it tended to confirm the thesis of Kushner, Inc. Technically they leased the property for 99 years, probably as way to help the wily Kushners avoid tax liabilities.
As of 2021, according to CNN, Kushner had fallen out of Trump’s inner circle, and had stepped away from politics for the time being. It’s not clear whether this was due to Trump expelling Kushner from his inner circle, or whether Kushner chose to distance himself. My guess is that Kushner finds it convenient to move on now that Trump is out of power. But he will likely insinuate himself back into Trump’s inner circle if and when Kushner finds Trump useful. Kushner himself did not rule coming back in another Trump administration.
Since Kushner left the White House, he had kept a low profile– until he published Breaking History in 2022. He likely had a ghost writer, given his lack of interest in reading and writing. In his book, Kushner does not address any of the allegations of corruption and foreign entanglement laid out in Kushner, Inc. Ward considers Breaking History to be self-aggrandizing and not especially elucidating to read.
The Kushners now live in Miami-Dade instead of New York. In an article for NBC, Ward speculates that perhaps Jared and Ivanka feared they would no longer be welcome in their previous New York circles. On the other hand, maybe they wanted to be close to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
In this 2022 article, Ward repeats the assertion that Kushner “endorsed or at the very least failed to prevent” the Qatari blockade, possibly because the Qataris at that time (2017) backed out of financing Kushner Companies’ real estate venture. Ward further reports that now the Saudis have invested 2 billion in a new Kushner fund. This has prompted Congress to ask for all of Kushner’s correspondence with Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (with whom, you will recall, Kushner had a bromance during the Trump administration).
According to Kushner’s autobiography, there is a mutual admiration society between him and Trump. They recognize each other’s genius. This shows Kushner’s continuing loyalty to Trump, although he is not working on the 2024 Trump campaign at the time of this writing. If Trump picks up steam, though, one shouldn’t be surprised to see Kushner worm his way into the campaign once again. If so, one hopes Kushner will bring his best-self in support of the former president. But it would be more logical for Trump to tap old talent such as Steve Bannon instead.
Follow me on Twitter
Sign up to be informed about new posts: