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Shame Cometh: The Jared Kushner Story
A tale of hubris and disgrace.
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”
THE MATRIARCH was a hero of the Jewish resistance. One of the leaders of an improbable escape from the ghetto, she helped tunnel beneath the walls and electrified fences imprisoning the local Jewish population. After crawling through a tunnel longer than two football fields, she lived in the woods for months before joining an underground resistance group that fought the Nazis.
She wound up in Budapest after the liberation. There, she married a Holocaust survivor from the same sliver of Eastern Europe. He took her surname, as her family was wealthier and more prominent: Kushner.
The couple emigrated to America as Sh’erit ha-Pletah—Displaced Persons in Allied occupation zones. They started a new life in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They had three children. They put the horrible past behind them. They looked ahead to the sunshiny future.
The grandfather was a carpenter, a construction worker, and, in time, a real estate developer. Taking advantage of funding through various federal programs, he made it big. The grandfather became one of the so-called “Holocaust builders”—Jewish survivors of the Second World War who amassed vast fortunes in New Jersey real estate development. How better to combat all that destruction than to build?
A heroic Nazi-fighter and a great builder: these were the paternal grandparents.
The father married within the local Orthodox Jewish community. He and his wife had four children: two boys and two girls.
The father became the head of the company the grandfather built. On his watch, the family business became exponentially more successful. A kingdom became an empire. There were 10,000 apartment units, commercial properties, industrial properties, a bank.
The father gave away a lot of money. He endowed Jewish academies and synagogues. He sat on boards. He gave generously to charitable causes, in the U.S. and in Israel: hospitals, universities, religious organizations. Most of all, he donated to political campaigns—for Democrats, mostly.
The father was good at the politics side of the job. He was handsome and debonair. He liked people. He liked publicity. He liked power. He liked having the most powerful people in the world at his beck and call: the President of the United States, the future Prime Minister of Israel, and anyone who was anyone in New Jersey. He was a big wheel in Garden State politics, the sort of character who turns up in television programs about smoke-filled-back-room political intrigue, a kingmaker.
Until it all came crashing down.
The money, the power, the fame and fortune: none of it was enough for the father. He wanted to extend his empire into the Empire State. He wanted to run the Port Authority. He wanted to strongarm the new governor. In a word, he wanted more.
To get more, the father risked everything he and his family had built. He violated federal law, repeatedly. He filed false tax returns. He filed false campaign finance reports. When he discovered that his sister and brother-in-law were cooperating with a federal investigation, he hired a prostitute to “honeypot” his brother-in-law, videotaped the tryst, and sent the tape to his sister. That sleazy and ruthless act—witness tampering, technically—became one of the 18 counts to which he pleaded guilty. He served two years in federal prison, the first 14 months in Alabama.
When the father was released from jail, he was no longer a big wheel in local politics. He was no longer a kingmaker. He could no longer practice law. When he was mentioned now in the newspapers, his name was festooned with unseemly modifiers like disgraced and convicted felon and crook.
This was the father.
The son was tall and quiet, like his mother. He was intellectually lazy and not particularly smart, but was always convinced he knew better than anyone else, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
He got ho-hum grades in high school. His SAT tests were subpar. He applied to Harvard, but was only accepted after his father donated millions to the school.
He had an unusual college experience. On weekends he flew to Alabama to visit his father in prison. While taking classes, he ran some of the family real estate concerns in Boston. He did not leave a mark at the school. Little about him was memorable.
When he graduated, he went to work for the family real estate business. His big idea was to buy a building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The cost was staggering: $1.8 billion. The deal closed in 2007, at the height of the boom. The real estate market collapsed, along with the rest of the economy, within months of the ink drying. The building was underwater. The debt service was onerous, threatening to bankrupt the family business. He was willing to do almost anything to prevent that from happening. If the investment failed, if the company failed, that meant that he had failed—that he hadn’t been right. And he was always right.
He married the daughter of an infamous New York personality, a loutish gossip column fixture who was a money launderer for the Russian mob. The family did not approve of her because she was not Jewish. To appease them, she converted—although she kept her last name, just as his grandmother had. He and his wife became a power couple, power brokers in the most powerful city in the world. That seemed to be the point of the marriage. Certainly there was no discernible passion on the part of either party, and plenty of lurid rumors. The wife would later describe their first date as “the best deal we ever made.”
He bought a beloved New York publication, known for its exquisite writing and the salmon color of its newspapers, and gutted it, destroying everything about it that made it special.
Like his father, he was good at networking. He knew lots of influential people: media magnates, heads of state, intelligence operatives, elder statesmen, PR executives, models, actors, politicians, cable news talking heads. Those influential people wielded their influence on his behalf, often in subtle ways. Unlike his father—but like the original Holocaust builders—he preferred to stay in the background. He shied away from publicity. He was a poor public speaker with a reedy, unpleasant speaking voice.
His kid brother married a supermodel, soaked up the good life, enjoyed jet-setting and hobnobbing with celebs in Southern California. Not him. He was more concerned with accruing power. He genuinely enjoyed the company of older men. He learned from them—insofar as he allowed himself to learn.
His father-in-law was running for president, as a Republican. The man was a buffoon, but he was a marketing genius, and he was family. His father-in-law asked him to join the team, despite him being a Democrat. He accepted. Power trumped politics. He took over social media operations. He worked with sophisticated tech companies that specialized in micro-targeting.
Through Henry Kissinger, of all people, he was connected to important players in the Russian government. The Russians wanted to help his father-in-law win the election. He wanted the same thing, and saw no reason why he should refuse the help. He lobbied for his father-in-law to hire as campaign chair a sleazy lobbyist with long ties to Russian intelligence. He met with Russians before his father-in-law’s first foreign policy speech, at a stately Washington hotel. When Russians promised dirt on his father-in-law’s political opponent, he met with them at the building that bore his wife’s family name. He met with Russians again in that same building, covertly, secreting them through a private entrance. At an upscale New York hotel, he met with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank; the Russians later said the meeting pertained to his family business. He proposed a backchannel via the Russian embassy, so he could talk to the Russians without anyone hearing.
It wasn’t limited to Russia. He met with other foreign nationals as well: princes from Saudi Arabia, from the United Arab Emirates. He met with anyone he thought could help his father-in-law’s campaign—or fix the longstanding problem of his company’s onerous debt on his Manhattan building.
None of this was legal.
After his father-in-law won, he took a job as a senior advisor. On the form senior advisors have to fill out to get a security clearance, he made key omissions. So he filled it out a second time. He made more omissions. So he filled it out a third time. He did not get the security clearance, but his father-in-law insisted he be given the job anyway. (Intentionally omitting meetings with foreign nationals on a security clearance form is a felony, but he was never charged.) He was a voracious consumer of the President’s Daily Brief, a document that contained all the highest-level top secret intelligence and national security information.
On the transition team, he and his wife wanted a general who had been fired by the previous president, and who was under FBI investigation for possible seditious activities, to be named national security advisor. His father-in-law took their advice. (The general was forced to leave the position a few months later, after he was caught lying to the FBI, and possibly to the Vice President. The general later pleaded guilty to making false statements.)
Through his PR connections, he was able to receive mostly favorable press, especially in the paper of record. A glowing feature of him ran in a prominent financial magazine, under the subtitle “Boy Wonder.” The press pushed the narrative that he and his wife were the mitigating influences in the White House. They were decent. They were normal. Through his tabloid connections, he was able to turn the gossip rags against the Democrats and also to kill stories that might be damaging to his father-in-law.
When he found out that the FBI was investigating his father-in-law’s campaign for meeting with all those Russians, he suggested to his father-in-law that the FBI director be fired. The FBI director is not popular with the Democrats, he said, because they believe he cost his father-in-law’s rival the election. They will love this, he said. His father-in-law listened, firing the FBI director. The Democrats did not love it. The Democrats thought it was obstruction of justice. The day after the FBI director was fired, the father-in-law met with Russian government officials in the Oval Office.
He was the de facto ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He befriended the Crown Prince, like him a Millennial, unlike him a psychopath. He spent a lot of time with the Crown Prince in Riyadh, so much so that the Crown Prince bragged that he was “in my pocket.” He gave the Crown Prince classified intelligence—information about who in the Saudi royal family was loyal and who was not. (After meeting with him, the Crown Prince initiated a purge of the royal family.) He lobbied for Saudi Arabia to be the first country his father-in-law would visit as president. Other presidents did not visit the Kingdom, because of the grotesque human rights abuses there. He didn’t care. The Saudis had money, lots of money, and he needed money, lots of money. And so his father-in-law made a state visit to the Kingdom.
Later, his buddy the Crown Prince had a dissident journalist murdered, the body hacked in pieces with a bone-saw. It is widely believed that he knew about the threat to this journalist, but did nothing to warn him.
His family was close with the disgustingly corrupt Prime Minister of Israel. They were old family friends. His father-in-law moved the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which did nothing but piss off the Palestinians and thrill Rapture-happy Evangelicals.
He brokered a Middle East peace deal, which was really a business deal between his old family friend and his friends in various royal families—and, of course, him and his father-in-law.
He lobbied for a blockade of Qatar, our strongest Arab ally and the site of our largest military base in the Middle East, in order to secure a new loan for his family’s underwater Fifth Avenue building. In a roundabout way, this worked. The Qataris indirectly bailed out his company. The blockade was ended.
His portfolio was a catalogue of failure. He was tasked with solving the opioid crisis. He did not. He was tasked with ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He did not. He was tasked with building the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He did not. He was tasked with managing the stockpile of medicine and PPE. He fucked that up royally—for the American people, at least, if not for his rich cronies. He hoarded the stuff and forced states to bid against each other for it.
During the early days of the pandemic, he set up a shadow task force to devise an appropriate response. When that task force gave him its recommendations—masks, contact tracing, federal coordination of supplies, etc.—he ignored them. The virus, he saw, was hitting the Blue States the hardest. It would help his father-in-law politically, he came to believe, if the pandemic continued to rage in those states. This way, his father-in-law could blame the governors of those states, who were all Democrats, for the escalating public health crisis, avoiding responsibility. So he decided to scuttle the plans given him by his own task force, and let the virus run amok.
At the time, the states hit the hardest by covid-19 were New York, New Jersey, and California. New York: where he lived for years, where most of his friends lived. New Jersey: where he grew up, where his parents lived. California: where his brother lived. He was willing to let the populations of those states—home to his family and friends—get sick and die to help his father-in-law’s re-election prospects.
Again: He was willing to let the populations of those states get sick and die to help his father-in-law’s re-election prospects.
As of this writing, 904,000 Americans have died of covid-19. The unofficial number is well over a million. Most of those deaths could have been prevented, had he and his father-in-law not sabotaged the pandemic response.
The grandson of Holocaust survivors allowed that mass death to happen.
He served in his father-in-law’s administration for four years and was the second-most powerful person in the White House. If he did anything to stop his father-in-law’s racist, sexist, cruel impulses, there is no evidence of it. During the Muslim travel ban, he did nothing. When refugee children were separated from their parents, he did nothing. After Charlottesville, when neo-Nazis paraded through the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us,” he did nothing—even as his father-in-law defended the neo-Nazis. During the Black Lives Matter protests, he did nothing. When his wife suggested they forcibly remove protestors so his father-in-law could get a photo in front of a church, he did nothing, and he did nothing as his father-in-law’s toxic rhetoric awakened white nationalist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic sentiment all across the country. He did nothing as Fascists took over the GOP—the same kind of hateful people who, eight decades ago, rounded up Jews like his paternal grandparents and sent them to concentration camps.
He and his wife made over half a billion dollars while working at the White House. That doesn’t count future earnings on connections forged and promises made during his time there—especially during the pandemic, when a lot of federal money went missing. He is now hitting up investors for his new investment capital concern. So far, he’s amassed some $3 billion. How much of this is payment for services rendered? How much of it is blood money?
Why has he not been charged for his many crimes? Who is protecting him, and for what purpose?
How does he live with himself? How does he sleep at night?
In two generations, the family went from escaping from Nazis to doing business with the Nazi bank of choice, from endowing Jewish causes to allying with anti-Semitic white nationalists, and from surviving the Holocaust to authorizing a Blue State Genocide.
This is the real Jared Kushner.
Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO via Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Benjamin Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and U.S. President Donald Trump are seen during their meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem. Monday, May 22, 2017.
CORRECTION: The church where the photo took place was not a Black church, as previously written.