Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka were not especially on board with Trump’s agenda–which begs the question, what were they even doing in the Trump admin? In Jared’s case, ideological commitments were irrelevant, he would still help Trump (and himself). For Ivanka, she imagined she was putting the brakes on Trump’s worst instincts (in her limited understanding of what is good policy).
Whose Side Was Kushner On?
Do Trump supporters also support Kushner by default–and Ivanka who after all has the same last name? If one has any inkling into the inner workings of politics, they would know that Kushner was at best indifferent to Trump’s actual political agenda, and Ivanka was actually opposed to it. Yet according to Vicky Ward’s Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption., Kushner was loyal to Trump.
Journalist and author Michael Wolff paints a somewhat different picture. He notes that Kushner only reluctantly changed his party registration to Republican as he joined Trump’s team (16). Jared’s father Charlie, a notorious Democrat party donor in New Jersey, explained to friends that Jared was merely a “Rockefeller Republican,” meant to evoke a more moderate orientation (Wolff 17). Indeed, Trump himself frequently referred to Kushner as a “liberal” (Wolff 21). Wolff explains:
"In Kushner's close personal circle there is a matter of fact view that "Jared hates Trump." I cannot, however, find anyone to whom he has uttered those precise words. Rather, it is that he conveys a sense of burden, of heavy heart" (Wolff 19).
Pundits on the right such as Ann Coulter have viewed Jared Kushner as a malign force in the Trump presidency, one that subverted the original mission statement of his campaign. As Wolff puts it:
"It was dedicated Trumpers who despised [Kushner] most, making his end one of their key priorities" (13).
Wolff portrays Kushner as “handling” Trump (my word, not his), and even subtly manipulating Trump for his own purposes. In Wolff’s telling, Kushner is against the wall, for “immigration reform,” and whose greatest interests are Israel and prison reform. Kushner’s brilliant strategy for reelection in 2020 was to target the African American community for special persuasion, “convincing his father-in-law that here was a way to victory” (Wolff 21). Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
Kushner, Inc., on the other hand, shows that Kushner always seemed on the “team” in terms of trying to help Trump win the election and then to succeed once in office. Perhaps the problem was that Kushner and those who believed in Trump defined success differently.
Kushner Was Mostly on Trump’s Side
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in fact committed to Trump’s political project. But when it came to Trump on a personal basis, Sessions failed Trump by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, hence precipitating the special counsel. Whom would you want by your side, someone who might sabotage your political fortunes yet ultimately believe in your cause, or someone with no moral or political compass, but who at least understands the job is to help you? The latter seems more practical when we’re talking about politics after all. The job is to win, and only by winning can the agenda be implemented. This is especially so when one thinks of how much time was wasted by the Trump team defending themselves against the Russia investigation.
Kushner had no trouble throwing Don Trump Jr. under the bus though. When the Trump Tower meeting became a focus of the Russia investigation, Kushner had his lawyer leak to the press emails which suggested that Don Jr. was the lead in organizing the meeting:
“They believed Lowell’s strategy was to sacrifice Don Jr. to give Kushner some cover. Over the weekend, Kushner had issued a statement stressing that he had only been a peripheral participant in the meeting.” (179)
Many got an impression of Jared as arrogant. Jared seemed to believe that he could control Trump. For example, he told a gathering of financial professionals at the office of Morgan Stanley not to “assume he’d govern as he had campaigned” (118), with reference to immigration (This is not a direct quote, rather Ward is summarizing Kushner’s speech). This is not just presumptuous, but suggests that Kushner stood in direct opposition to what was arguably the signature issue of Trump’s campaign. This seems to show Kushner subverting Trump’s campaign, though it is just one piece of evidence. It doesn’t mean that Kushner wanted Trump to fail politically.
It is suspicious that the Obama administration had no problem overlooking nepotism laws to allow Jared and Ivanka to work in the West Wing. Nepotism laws are there for a reason: it’s hard to fire your own family. As Ward explains it, the concern is more about incompetence than necessarily corruption. Yet Obama thought Javanka ( I hate that term, let me stop using it) was a calming influence on Trump, or a moderating influence. Well, that’s just it. Those on the left perceived Jared and Ivanka to be in opposition to what Trump and his followers wanted to achieve.
The question of Israel was one of foremost importance to Jared. But it was important to Trump too. If Trump were not already disposed to be sympathetic to Israel, 20 million from Sheldon Adelson to a pro-Trump super PAC got him to that position very quickly. Moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, therefore, was a top priority. Even Bannon had that item on his whiteboard to-do list in the West Wing. The only disagreement between Bannon and Jared on this embassy move, apparently, was that Bannon wanted to move the embassy on day one, whereas Jared thought it unwise and preferred to wait. Therefore, we cannot really say that it was just for Jared that the Trump administration was so zealously in support of Israel. It was the expressed desire of the whole Trump team, probably as a result of campaign contributions which perhaps aligned with the Trump’s disposition anyway.
We know that Jared and Ivanka were against the travel bans (stemming from the “Muslim ban” Trump had floated in the campaign). The travel bans from 70 Muslim countries was another item on Bannon’s whiteboard. Jared did not initially seem to be particularly offended by this policy. Yet the media reaction was such that Ivanka felt social pressure to have her father reverse course. This incident nicely illustrates the dysfunction of a White House. Trump’s image-conscious daughter held a lot of sway:
“After this, Ivanka told her father that the travel ban would never make him liked and he needed to fix it. Possibly, given all the nasty comments on the internet about her, what she probably meant was that she need to be liked and he needed to fix this” (128).
One gets the impression from Kushner, Inc. that it was not so much that Jared and Ivanka were committed to liberal causes; but rather, they were victims of whatever narrative the media put forth. By responding to the media, they were by default advocating for the direct opposite of what Trump and his followers would want.
On the issue of Charlottesville, and Trump’s “both sides” comments, Jared and even Ivanka showed no signs of breaking with Trump. Considering the media pressure, this is another example of Kushner’s personal loyalty to Trump. Gary Cohn visited Javanka in Bedminster to inform them that he planned on resigning, and was deeply flummoxed that they did not see Trump’s statements on Charlottesville from his point of view.
Recall that Kushner was tapped with finishing Trump’s border wall with Mexico. According to Michael Wolff, Jared was against the wall. Yet Kushner did not shrink from this duty due to his supposed liberal sensibilities. Rather, his plan was to expedite the construction of the wall via “forced purchase sale of private land to make space for the wall.” That doesn’t sound like someone trying to sabotage the border wall. In fact, it sounds like Kushner was putting his NY real estate savvy to achieving one of Trump’s key political objectives. The only problem was they ran out of time due to 2020.
Fighting the 2020 Results
While I did hear rumors that Kushner tried to help Trump fight the 2020 election results and aftermath; according to CNN, Kushner advised Trump to accept the election loss and concede in November. Indeed, he and Ivanka moved to Florida so they obviously didn’t have much faith in Trump’s ability to fight the election results. But at that point Trump was in a tough position, so we can’t really blame Kushner for that.
According to Wolff, Kushner was “equanimous” about the election results (22). Some might suspect he was a little too “equanimous.” No doubt, he assured friends that they would win, but one doesn’t get the sense that he was particularly devastated by the loss.
As for the controversy over the election itself, Kushner won’t say the election was stolen, but he also won’t say it wasn’t stolen. That’s a good barometer of his continuing personal loyalty to Trump. For Trump, a necessary indicator of whether you’re an ally is if you at least agree that there were significant issues with the 2020 election. From Business Insider, Kushner comments on the election:
“I think they changed a lot of rules at the last minute, used COVID as a pretense to fight the election.”
That’s a pretty fair-minded appraisal of what happened, which would sit fine with Trump voters. Kushner told Sky News:
“President Biden is the president right now. There was a transfer of power. I think it was a very sloppy election. I think it has caused a lot of people in our country to look at how our elections are conducted. During COVID they changed a lot of the rules, which gave a lot of pole a lot of concerns with how our elections are conducted.”
In these statements, Kushner likely does not run afoul of Trump. Clearly this is a personal grievance for Trump for which he can bear no dissent. But this is also just Kushner’s frank opinion. Kushner is unbowed by the media when it comes to sticking to his guns, and not abandoning his old boss and current father-in-law.
Criminal Justice Reform
Another pet issue of Kushner’s was prison reform or criminal justice reform. The premise was that there were people, especially African Americans, who were in jail that didn’t really deserve to be there. Trump signed onto this issue whole-heartedly, though Republicans are not unified on prison reform. At the time, however, one didn’t hear much criticism of prison reform, though one heard reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not favor the bill.
Trump and other advocates had the idea that this would greatly help him with African Americans at the ballot box, which it really didn’t since they still voted overwhelmingly against him in 2020. Republicans are better served by a tough on crime stance, especially after the BLM riots when crime has skyrocketed. Nevertheless, since Trump himself thought (misguidedly) that prison reform would help him politically, one cannot say that Kushner manipulated him against his will. They both had this naive view that somehow a large percentage of people were being unjustly punished.
In 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, which was considered a win for Jared Kushner, and a “win” for the Trump Administration. The creation of the legislation took some negotiation between hard-liners like Sessions, who was adamant that softer-sentencing was not in the legislation. Kushner agreed, but the Senate passed a bill which included sentence reform. In addition to providing funds for additional rehab to prisoners, it softened some laws on drug offenders. According to Fox News, the law reduced “three strikes” laws from life to 25 years, and allowed “2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.”
Senator Tom Cotton opposed the legislation, referring to it as a “jailbreak” bill. The Democrats, however, simply loved it. Who did the Trump team imagine was the constituency was for this bill? Did they think crackheads would be voting for him in 2020? All this is to say, Jared’s big win was not really something to write home about.
When Kushner urged Trump to fire FBI Director Jim Comey, it is unlikely that he did that to deliberately sabotage Trump. Kushner quite ingenuously believed that the media would like this move. After all, weren’t they mad at Comey for announcing they were investigated Clinton on the eve of the election? Indeed, the media was rather sore about that; but Kushner failed to realize that the second Trump fired Comey, in Bannon’s words, Comey would become “Joan of Arc.”
Bannon fought against the concept of firing Comey. Kushner argued:
“No, no, this is what should be done. The guy is not on our team” (163).
At least, this shows that Jared was on the team, trying to help Trump, though it might have been ill-advised. Bannon was after all correct, firing Comey ended up badly. It precipitated the special counsel and the continuing obsession with that elusive “Russian collusion.” But to the extent that Comey himself perpetuated the wasteful investigations into “Russian collusion,” one cannot blame Kushner for persuading Trump to be rid of him.
As for Trump, it was not difficult to persuade him to fire Comey, as Comey was playing coy about the Russia investigation. He refused to tell Trump whether he was a target of the investigation or not. Seeing as that “Russia collusion” was a narrative spun by Clinton oppo research firm Fusion GPS, one can understand Trump’s frustration.
Giuliani told Fox News at the time:
“He fired Comey because Comey would not — among other things — say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation.”
This was considered damning, interpreted as Trump “interfering with an investigation,” etc. No one stopped to ask whether the investigation itself was legitimate.
Trump himself explained to Lester Holt:
“You know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election” (166).
Ward takes the conventional media view that this is Trump “admitting” that he was trying to thwart an active investigation. Hardly. It is Trump calmly pointing out that the investigation itself was a farce, and to the extent that Comey was part of it meant that Trump could not work with Comey.
After all, the infamous Steele dossier which Comey warned Trump about has now been proven false and ludicrous. Whether Ward was aware of that at the time of publication (2019), that many aspects of the Russian investigation, such as the Steele dossier, are fraudulent, she gives no hint of being aware in her credulous reporting. Ward’s investigative powers, which are admittedly sharp when it comes to Kushner’s corruption, fail her when it is the other side of the aisle which deserves scrutiny.
According to Michael Wolff’s Too Famous, Kushner was responsible for leaks to the White House and saw himself as putting the brakes on Trump’s worst instincts:
"...Kushner, a skilled leaker, established as a "senior aide" a long record of reproachful comments on the behavior and policies of the White House" (16).
If this is true, and it is at least plausible, it would obviously temper the view that Kushner was generally loyal to Trump. At least, we can say there were instances of subversion and self-serving, with a general trend of personal loyalty.
Based on Kushner, Inc., one can say that Kushner at least wanted Trump to win his elections and win his policy battles. The problem is that Kushner had a different vision of what constituted “winning” from Trump’s actual voters.
As for the book Kushner, Inc. itself, it’s pretty clear that Vicky Ward considers Republicans and conservative positions to be axiomatically bad, and Democrat positions to be good. One senses this throughout Kushner, Inc. She remains unskeptical of the Mueller investigation throughout, though Ward probably provides more evidence of Kushner’s untoward relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar than anything the endless Russia Investigations found about “Russian collusion.” An Amazon reviewer entitled what is currently the book’s top Amazon review: “Extensively Researched, Informative, but Injects Leftist Assumptions as Fact.” This was pretty much my experience with Kushner, Inc.
One doesn’t want to read “Republican” political books and “Democrat” political books. One wants to read an objective assessment of the facts. To some extent, notwithstanding the criticisms I outlined above, Kushner Inc accomplishes this. At least, it shines the light on a set of facts which were perhaps to dense and required too much context to make it into the day-to-day outrage political news during the Trump presidency.
- Ward, Vicky. Kushner, Inc. NY: St Martins Press, 2019.
- Wolff, Michael. Too Famous: The Rich, the Powerful, the Wishful, the Notorious, the Damned. NY: Henry Hold and Company, 2021.
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