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Kushner Inc: The Trump Campaign

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). 

Let’s take a look at the tape

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 at this point 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 in fact 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.  Into the administration, there was persistently 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 huge implications.  Meanwhile the actual secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was sidelined. 

Both Jared and Ivanka were fairly cavalier in terms of ignoring conflicts of interest: Jared for his real-estate holdings and his company’s debt, and Ivanka for her fashion brands.  Recall the controversy in which 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 a kind of payback 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 tends 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. 

Russia, Russia, Russia

Kushner Inc includes the usual leftist hysteria about Cambridge Analytica and “Russian collusion.”  Ward seeks to portray Trump’s victory as something untoward, despite the fact that those claims of Russian collusion came to nothing.  Kushner Inc ties itself up into knots to show connections to Russia.  It is tedious–like the “Russian collusion” investigation itself.  The evidence of Kushner’s personal corruption are much more straightforward and compelling. 

As for Cambridge Analytica, that was just a good use of voter data.  Sure, it raised questions of data privacy.  However, it’s not like leftists were suddenly inspired with a passion for data privacy but that they perceive it was used to the Republicans’ advantage.  Unfortunately, Ward retreads these leftist tropes and sprinkles them throughout Kushner Inc like she’s repeating cant.  

Why are Kushner’s few meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak so interesting, yet his close friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t raise eyebrows?  It’s not as though Kushner had no role in our Israel/ Middle East policy.  Instead, the former is viewed as axiomatically bad, and the latter is neutral at worst.  Anyway, Kislyak is the ambassador.  It’s his job to meet with people, no? 

It turns out that Mueller also investigated Kushner’s dealings with Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China as well as Russia.  It begs a couple questions.  First, why wasn’t the special counsel interested in Israel, with whom Kushner had the most dealings, both during the campaign, the transition, and the administration?  Everything with Russia is assumed to be nefarious, so why the double standard?  According to Kushner Inc, Kushner was a “focus” of the Mueller investigation.  Based on the reportage of Kushner Inc, one wonders why the whole investigation wasn’t about Kushner.  

The 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Kushner was fascinating to the media.  They failed to mention the meeting was a set up by Fusion GPS to tie the Trump campaign with Russia.  Veselnitskaya met with Glenn Simpson from Fusion GPS both the day before and after the Trump Tower meeting, according to the findings of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  That seems like a relevant detail, considering the Clinton campaign was paying Fusion GPS to do opposition research.  Wouldn’t an investigative journalist such as Vicky Ward be interested in that fact-pattern?  One can only conclude that the “Russia collusion” angle was a narrative spun by an opposition research firm; yet Vicky Ward is somehow unable to make any inferences from that except to just continue beating the Russia collusion drum.  It is frankly a weakness of Kushner, Inc., written at a time before most people had abandoned their “Russia collusion” obsession. 

Kushner pointed out in a public statement prior to meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Russia investigation: 

“With respect to my contacts with Russia or Russian representatives during the campaign, there were hardly any.”

Those other 14 countries could have been just as legitimately a field of inquiry for investigators as was Russia.  The potential for corruption was there. Instead, much time was wasted on an overhyped Russia investigation.  

Supposedly the special counsel was looking at Kushner’s business connections with a whole list of countries in the Middle East.  But if you look at the news coverage at the time, it was 100 percent, almost psychotically focused on Kushner’s connections with Russia: 

The Russia investigation went so far as to bother other countries.  Not only did this farce take up space in American media, a complex and convoluted tale which amounted to nothing, the Mueller team followed Kushner’s communications with foreign leaders, such as the Saudis and the UAE. 

In the epilogue, Ward notes hopefully: 

“First there is the Robert Mueller investigation.  At the time of writing, there was speculation that dozens of sealed criminal indictments spotted on the docket for Washington, D.C., federal court could signal big changes to come.” (238) 

As we now know, nothing really came of the Mueller investigation, except for some talk of “obstruction”; in other words, charges which were generated from the investigation itself.  While Ward does a good job documenting Jared and Charlie Kushner’s malfeasance, she does not seem to be aware that those with whom she sympathizes politically also commit malfeasance, as is the case in the “Russian collusion” investigation and those who perpetrated it.   

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