How Jared Kushner Is Dismantling a Family Empire


(1)

There’s a primal scene. It takes place in neither green Eden, where the
snake spoke sweetly, nor the master bedroom of your first house, the one
by the railroad tracks, where, spying from a closet, you watched your
parents in flagrante delicto, but at the Fontainebleau, on Miami Beach,
where Sam Giancana talked Castro with the C.I.A., Jerry Lewis got into all kinds of mischief in The Bellboy, and Tony Montana scoped bikinis on
the pool deck. If you’re a Jew of a certain vintage, the Fontainebleau
means swank. It’s the fantasy showroom of the American Dream.

(2)

Passover, 2000. Jared Kushner’s father, Charlie, a New Jersey
real-estate tycoon, had gathered at the Fontainebleau with extended
family to recall the story of the exodus—the flight of the ancient
Hebrews from Egypt, hard labor and plagues, the Golden Calf, the tablets
broken, the spirit of the Lord always before them, a column of smoke in
the daytime, a column of fire at night.

Kushner, dapper with steel-gray hair, had turned up angry, mostly at his
brother, Murray, the Ivy Leaguer, wise in everything but the street.
Charlie had gone into business with his father in 1985. When the old man
died, Charlie took over. He gave stakes in the business to his siblings,
then built it into a behemoth. At the time of the Seder, the Kushner
Companies were worth about a billion dollars. (Who’s pharaoh now?) He’d
put up apartment buildings and commercial properties in Pennsylvania and
New Jersey, engaging in all the behavior typical of big-time developers.

Charlie was gutsy and took chances; Murray was cautious—that was the
problem. “In 1999,” according to Gabriel Sherman, in New York
magazine, where much of the reporting on the family feud comes from,
“Murray backed out of Charlie’s bid to acquire Berkshire Realty, a firm
with 24,000 apartments, which would have vaulted the Kushners into the
first rank of privately held real-estate firms.” At the Seder, Charlie
told Murray they shouldn’t work together anymore. It was Murray’s
response—“If we can’t be partners, we can’t be brothers” —that set
off the mêlée. Murray’s wife, Lee, rose to her husband’s defense.
Charlie fired back: Hey, Lee, do you think your son really got into
Penn? I hate to break it to you, but it was me. I got him in.

We’re out of here, said Lee.

The most important observer of the feud was Charlie’s older son, Jared
Kushner, who, at 19, was tall and handsome, though somewhat generic. You
could imagine him slotted into any sort of life, but, as an heir of the
tycoon, his future was planned. A main job for the son of a man like
Charlie is being Charlie’s son.

The Kushners assembled for another Fontainebleau Seder in 2001, minus
Murray, Lee, and their children—that’s how families fall apart.
Charlie was in an even uglier mood, according to Sherman. He’d come to
believe his sister Esther and her husband, Billy Schulder, were siding
with Murray. The tension was high even before Charlie thought he spotted
Billy and his son Jacob whispering, laughing. Are they laughing at me?
Charlie shouted down the table, over the shank bone and salt water that
is the bitter tears of our people: “You’re so pious? Go on, Billy, and
tell your kids how pious you are.”

Everyone knew what Charlie meant—he’d discovered his brother-in-law
was having an office affair a few years before.

Esther begged: “Don’t say any more.”

“You’re a fucking putz!” Charlie shouted at Billy.

To Jared, his father was a good man embattled by free-riders, “siblings
that he literally made wealthy for doing nothing.” It was just another
battle at just another Seder—Jews at play—but would have
consequences.

We all live in the world created by that feud.

(3)

Jared Kushner’s Grandma Rae hid with Jewish partisans in Poland during
World War II—that’s where she met Joseph Kushner, a carpenter. When
they reached New York, in 1949, they had as little as people can
have—they’d lost their money and possessions, language, everything.
Joseph worked construction in New Jersey, which was booming. When he’d
saved money, he purchased and developed land with partners. He was one
of several developers who came to be collectively known as the Holocaust
Builders. By the time of his death, he’d built 4,000 apartments. That’s
the dream. Start at zero, make a fortune. In the next generation, that
very success would destroy the family.

Joseph and Rae had four children—two girls, two boys. Murray was older
and did better in school, but it was Charlie, the daredevil who loved
risk, who went into business with the old man. In this way, Charlie
became the Kushner that mattered—the story would run not through
Murray but through Charlie, then raising his family in Livingston, New
Jersey. He brought his children up as observant Jews, Modern Orthodox.
There was Dara, Jared, Joshua, and Nicole. Dara is the low-profile
Kushner. Nicole, now Nicole Kushner Meyer, is the Kushner who created a
stir in China for seeming to offer “golden visas” in return for an
investment in a Kushner tower in Jersey City. Joshua, who runs an
investment firm and a health-insurance company, is the Kushner who dates
the model Karlie Kloss. Jared, the older boy, is the Kushner who became
the public face. He was a good son, attended religious schools, obeyed
the Sabbath. Outside his Manhattan office, a book sat on a pedestal:
Pirkei Avot, a compilation of Jewish sayings, ethical teachings. In
other words, Jared Kushner is kosher of mind—but there is kosher, then
kosher-style. Kosher means, if it’s trayf, you don’t eat it.
Kosher-style means, if it’s trayf, you don’t eat it unless it’s
something you really like a lot.

Charlie trained his children in business, too. Because there’s the
wisdom of the Book, then the wisdom of the street. “My father never
really believed in summer camp, so we’d come with him to the office,”
Jared Kushner told Forbes. “We’d go look at jobs, work on construction
sites. It taught us real work.”

“Sundays, my friends would be at football games with their fathers,”
Kushner told George Gurley in The Kingdom of New York: Knights, Knaves,
Billionaires, and Beauties in the City of Big Shots, as Seen by
The New
York Observer. “I’d be in back of my dad’s car with my mini pair of
construction boots, walking job sites.”

Business, as practiced by big-time developers, means politics. The
Kushner house was an occasional stop for Democratic politicians. Charlie
gave a million dollars to the D.N.C. in 2002. Jared gave 60,000 of his
own dollars, whatever that means. One night, after Hillary Clinton’s
Senate victory, she showed up at the Kushners’ Jersey Shore house for
Shabbat. Jared made his first serious public speech, in 2000, from a
stage on the Kushner lawn. The street had been closed off, Secret
Service swarmed. He was introducing presidential candidate Al Gore.
Jared later said it was hard when the newspaper he owned, The New York
Observer,
endorsed Barack Obama—“because I really like Hillary a lot
and respect her, and she’s as stand-up as they come as a person.”

(4)

Once, when I was talking to the movie producer Jerry Weintraub about the
importance of education, he cut me off, saying, “What, a diploma? You
want a diploma from Harvard? Give me 24 hours. I’ll have a Harvard
diploma with your name on it.”

(5)

In the book The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden uses Jared Kushner as
an example of how colleges operate. Jared got whatever grades he got in
high school, but it wasn’t Jared that mattered when his application went
to Harvard. It was Charlie. “In 1998, when Jared was attending the
Frisch School and starting to look at colleges, his father had pledged
$2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in annual installments of
$250,000,” Golden writes.

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school
thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former official at
the Frisch School told Golden. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT
scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this
was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a
little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we
thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”

In this way, Kushner set up his son, put him on the inside lane,
credentialed and connected. Charlie was telling the world something
about himself—connections, clout. Any idiot can get a genius into
Harvard. It takes a macher to get a middling white kid admitted.

Jared entered Harvard in 1999. Classmates remember him as bland—one of
those freshmen who turn up in a fancy button-down shirt and jeans, with
a side part, carrying Crain’s New York Business. Some probably took his
earnestness as a put-on, an ironic pose, but soon learned he was in fact
what he seemed: a deadly serious scion, prince of a kingdom that would
soon be in flames. According to Lizzie Widdicombe of The New Yorker,
Jared called his father every day—that kind of kid—drove an
expensive car, talked markets. Friday nights at Chabad or Hillel. Shomer
Shabbos. He dabbled in real estate, getting money from his father and
his father’s friends to buy property in Somerville, Massachusetts. “I
figured, ‘Well, I know everything there is to know about real
estate,’ ” he said in The Kingdom of New York. “ ‘I’ve been exposed
to it all my life.’ Truth is, I didn’t know anything.” He did this in
the way of a hobby, as another kid might work on the Lampoon, if that
kid was dealing in millions. When Jared graduated, in 2003, he went on
to get a joint business/law degree at N.Y.U.—Charlie had pledged $3
million to the school. His future seemed certain. But, as Kushner’s
great-grandparents would’ve said, kicking it in the shtetl, Der mentsh
trakht un Got lakht. Man plans, God laughs.

(6)

Jared Kushner is six feet three and thin—rangy if you like him, reedy
if you don’t. He has dark eyes and brown hair, a broad smile, and a
facial expression, captured in newspapers, that goes from surprised to
amused to flat. Something about him remains opaque, unknowable.
Something held in reserve. He’s a beautiful new house made to look old,
a beautiful new house with fogged windows. You lean close and stare
inside and still see nothing. The rooms may be filled with antique
furniture. Or maybe it’s Ikea. Or maybe the house is empty. We have
facts and figures—36 years old, multi-millionaire—yet he remains a
mystery. What’s he really want? What’s he really like? He’s either canny
and shrewd, dumb and lucky, or dumb and unlucky. He’s either in the
engine room or just along for the ride. Trump has put him in charge of
everything—Middle East peace, opioid crisis—yet he seemingly knows
nothing. He was in the meeting but only for a few minutes. He received
the e-mail but did not read the chain.

(7)

The Red Bull Inn sat on a nondescript stretch of Route 22 in
Bridgewater, New Jersey. It was a motor court, with a bull painted on
the side. Forty-five miles from the Holland Tunnel this way, 120 miles
from Atlantic City that. Walking distance from a Houlihan’s. It was the
sort of place where you get a room with two queens, though you only need
one, shut the drapes, crank the A/C to max, and lie in the dark at
midday, staring at the ceiling, listening to the traffic. You can
reconsider your entire life in such a place, take a nap, or do something
so wrong it changes not just your future but that of everyone you love.

(8)

A Kushner family friend told New York’s Sherman: “[Charlie] loved
being the Don Corleone of the community. He loved that when he walks
into a synagogue the rabbis run over to him. Charlie saw himself as the
Jewish Kennedy.”

Video: Jared Kushner: Middle East Journeyman

(9)

Charlie was still angry when he got back from the Fontainebleau—at his
brother, sister, brother-in-law, the world. He had everything yet was
embittered, embattled. The closer you get to what you want, the farther
away it seems. That’s the rub. He was now being sued by his brother,
Murray, accused of mismanagement. In 2002, he was also sued by a former
Kushner Companies accountant named Bob Yontef, who had made allegations
about all those political contributions—Yontef said they had been made
with company money. It was a second Yontef lawsuit, filed in federal
court in 2003, that got the attention of New Jersey U.S. attorney Chris
Christie, a Republican with ambitions of his own. Christie opened an
investigation into Yontef’s claims, which meant the F.B.I. poking
around. Charlie was convinced his sister Esther and brother-in-law Billy
were cooperating. Charlie wanted revenge—wanted to make his sister
feel as bad as he did.

From New Jersey to 666 Fifth Avenue. No Manhattan position, no Ivanka.
No Ivanka, no Air Force One.

He enlisted the help of a private detective, whom you could hire in the
way that, in Chinatown, the redhead hired Jake Gittes to skunk the
works. The detective was named Tommy. Though at first reluctant, he
eventually agreed to help. Tommy reserved adjoining rooms at the Red
Bull Inn, hid a video camera in an alarm clock—aimed at the bed—then
handed the keys to a girl Charlie had hired, a prostitute who approached
Esther’s husband, Billy, at the Time to Eat Diner. She said her car had
broken down. Billy gave her a ride back to the motel. She asked him
inside. He refused but took her number. They met the next day. Tommy
handed Charlie the videotape soon after. Charlie waited a few months
before passing it on to his sister. She then did something Charlie did
not count on—called the feds. The private detective and prostitute
ended up in the U.S. attorney’s office, spilling. Now, instead of just a
case of political malfeasance, you had a scandal made for the New York
tabloids. Charlie Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 felony counts—tax
fraud, election violations, witness tampering. Chris Christie described
Kushner’s crimes as crimes of “greed, power, and excess.”

In a letter to his sister—written with “shattered heart and tears in
my eyes” —
Charlie confessed. “What I did as an act of revenge was
wrong in every way,” he wrote. “I only ask that you forgive me for
resorting to such despicable behavior, which is disgraceful. I was wrong
and I committed a terrible sin. How did I let hatred invade my heart and
guide my actions?”

Charlie was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary. He lost
his reputation, status, freedom—everything. When the story hit the
papers, students at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy—named for the
patriarch—covered the family name on their uniforms with black tape.

(10)

The Montgomery Federal Prison Camp, in Alabama, is minimum-security, the
sort of place people call Club Fed. It sprawls like a college campus and
holds just under 900 inmates. Former Enron C.E.O. Jeffrey Skilling
served time there, as did Jesse Jackson Jr. and Watergate conspirators
Chuck Colson and John Mitchell. Jared visited his father every week. In
the great room, families and children around, men in prison garb. What
did they talk about? In The Godfather, after turning the business over
to his son, Don Corleone says, “So, Barzini will move against you
first. He’ll set up a meeting with someone you absolutely trust,
guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting you’ll be assassinated.”
In the book of Kings, King David tells his son Solomon, “I go the way
of all the earth; be thou strong, therefore, and show thyself a man.”
Then, “Thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and
what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel. . . . Do
therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to
the grave in peace.”

Charlie spent around 18 months in prison, then was transferred to a
halfway house in Newark. Jews are unsure of the form and intentions of
God. Maybe there is an afterlife, maybe not. Maybe there is hope, maybe
not. Judgment is reserved for the Almighty. “I will be gracious to whom
I will be gracious,” God tells Moses in Exodus. “And will show mercy
on whom I will show mercy.” The master plan and purpose remain
hidden—to everyone but Charlie. “I believe that God and my parents in
heaven forgive me for what I did, which was wrong,” he told The Real
Deal,
a real-estate trade publication. “I don’t believe God and my
parents will ever forgive my brother and sister for instigating a
criminal investigation and being cheerleaders for the government and
putting their brother in jail because of jealousy, hatred and spite.”

In short, Charlie goes to heaven; the rest go to hell.

(11)

The Kushner Companies, powerful as it became, remained provincial. It
grew and lived in New Jersey, among the sprawl, the subdivisions,
factories, and swamps. Forced to take command of that company, Jared, at
age 24, was like a kid who has been handed the keys to his father’s
Porsche. What will a young man do in such a situation?

Drive to the city.

(12)

The New York Observer was a kind of magic kingdom. Founded by Arthur
Carter in 1987, it became a tribune for a rarefied segment of Manhattan,
with its spotlight on the bigwigs of media and publishing, real estate,
advertising. It was a font, a source of sensibility and talent, small
but mighty—never really read by more than 50,000, say, but those
50,000 deciding whom you would love and whom you would mock. “The
Observer
couldn’t have been spawned a minute earlier than it was,”
Observer editor Peter Kaplan wrote in The Kingdom of New York. “The
rise of the money culture created a lovely narcissism, which made the
1990s the screwball decade it became.” Graydon Carter, no relation to
Arthur, served as its editor in chief, followed by Susan Morrison, then
Kaplan. I worked there for about a year. It got me going. Not just the
experience but how it trained you to look at the city. It was about
being wised-up, smart—knowing the guy but also the guy behind the guy
and the guy behind that guy. It fed on just the sort of scandals that
engulfed the Kushners. Because a story like that has everything.

It’s unclear if Jared Kushner ever really read the Observer before he
bought it. He first noticed the paper while waiting for the Boston
shuttle at La Guardia, his attention caught not by the articles or
reviews but by a list: New York’s power Seders. He
later told Gabriel
Sherman he considered reading the paper—something an owner probably
should do—to be unpleasant homework, a chore. “The articles were way
too long,” Kushner told Gurley. “It wasn’t visually stimulating, and I
thought that people today are more responsive to shorter, easier pieces
like they get on the Internet. When you want to do something long,
deliberately do that, but for the most part, stay within the mold and
give the reader what they are looking for with minimum effort. Reading
shouldn’t be hard.”

What probably made the Observer attractive as an investment was the
price. Ten million dollars! For a newspaper in New York! What a cheap
way to move into the city, change the meaning of Kushner from private
dick and Jersey motel to pink broadsheet. Arthur Carter, who was losing
about $2 million a year on the paper, told Kushner it wasn’t really for
sale. After all, who was Jared Kushner? A 25-year-old N.Y.U. grad
student, an intern at private-equity firm Square Mile Capital, a child.
Jared persisted; Carter relented. Jared made his pitch in Carter’s
apartment, explained how he intended not merely to keep the Observer
going but to make it profitable. “I’d brought Clive Cummis, one of my
father’s lawyers, who is well respected and wears a bow tie and has gray
hair,” Kushner says in The Kingdom of New York. “I figured he’d give
me some sense of credibility with Arthur. We sat down, and I put down on
the table a check with the full purchase price and a signed contract,
and I said, ‘Listen, I’m ready to go.’ ”

Owning the Observer made Jared interesting, powerful, a figure of
fascination—I don’t know what it is, but something about you has
changed. He was written up in society and gossip columns, discussed in a
giggly tone as if he were a Kennedy or a member of a boy band, as if he
had that kind of hair that covers one eye. In a single move—no one is
sure if he planned it this way—Kushner had gotten into the big action.
He found himself in a new crowd, at a new kind of party. Men’s Vogue.
Vanity Fair. He stood in back, raising a glass, greeting men and women
who dominated the dream life of the city. Bloomberg, Giuliani, Trump.
Rupert Murdoch took the young publisher under his wing, becoming a kind
of adviser. In this way, Jared Kushner swam into a previously
unreachable stratum, a strange sea filled with exotic creatures, moguls,
magnates, models. Not long after the purchase, he started dating Ivanka.
They met at a business lunch. It became serious—because it made sense.
Young, good-looking people, offspring of madly driven fathers,
inheritors of gaudy real-estate traditions. It was an old story. A
debased nobleman courting the daughter of a wealthy factory owner—each
gives, each gets. He brings money, hustle. She brings beauty and the
famous name, nothing in old America but aristocratic in the age of
reality TV. Jared met the patriarch, got the look-over. Imagine it.
Kushner and Trump in the morning of a great partnership, Table 1 at
Trump Grill, regarding each other like rat and terrier in one of the
pits of the old Five Points.

Video: Ivanka Trump: The First Daughter

Religion was the only obstacle. In earlier times, it would’ve been the
Protestants who could not countenance the Jew. (And vice versa.) Now it
was mainly the Jews—not just Jared but his parents—who resisted the
intermarriage, the shattering of tradition. At some point—monumental
days for America; your father and mother almost split before you were
born—Jared and Ivanka took a break. According to The New Yorker, Wendi
Deng, then Rupert Murdoch’s wife, deputized herself to put the train
back on the rails. (Some people just love love.) She called Jared.
“You’re working so hard. Come with Rupert and me on the boat for the
weekend.” When Jared arrived, Ivanka was already there. Jared gave
Ivanka the ring soon after—a 5.22-carat, cushion-cut diamond set by
Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry.

Ivanka, who agreed to convert, studied Torah with Haskel Lookstein, then
leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, on the Upper East Side, capo
di tutti capi
of Modern Orthodox New York rabbis. She sat “before a
three-judge religious panel known as a beth din, and [took] a trip
to a mikvah, the ritual bath,” The New Yorker reported. She went down
as Ivanka, goyish princess, daughter of Trump Tower and the Trump
National Golf Club, duchess of Palm Beach and Mar-a-Lago, mistress of
openings and golf courses, but came up as Yael—Ivanka’s Hebrew name;
it means ibex, a type of mountain goat—future mother of the
president’s three Jewish grandchildren. The wedding was held in
Bedminster, less than 10 miles from the Red Bull Inn.

(13)

Did Jared Kushner ruin the Observer? Did he run it into the ground? Did
he extract the sweet elixir, a bee sucking nectar, leaving the flower
itself to wither?

To be fair, it’s not been a great time for print. Retrenchment,
collapse. The Observer was losing millions when Kushner bought it—it
seems unfair to expect him to succeed where so many media veterans have
failed.

And yet.

His tenure started on a sanguine note. Peter Kaplan looked at Kushner
the way a lot of people later looked at Trump—as an empty vessel,
something he could re-purpose for good. “His 25-ness is a huge asset,”
Kaplan told The New York Times when the sale was announced. “He is not
weighed down by the debris of conventional wisdom.”

That moment did not last—it was all front anyway. In addition to the
nice things said in public, Kaplan shared other sentiments with
colleagues. This was done in a melancholy way, in the nature of “I have
seen what’s coming, and don’t like it.”

In other words, not only did Kushner have money, he had
ideas—proclivities, tastes. Less than a year after he took over, he
began agitating. He did not seem to like the paper, as if he had not
known what he was buying. He was like a man who does not like baseball
realizing he owns a baseball team. What’s he gonna do?

The New York Observer was a broadsheet—that’s part of what made it
unusual. Broadsheet means New York Times, Wall Street Journal. These
tend to be stately and serious, just the opposite of tabloid, which is
blood and gossip, New York Post. The Observer was a hybrid—tabloid
heart, broadsheet brain. A funny man in a serious mood, a serious man
with a sense of humor. A goofball in a tux is dangerous. Kushner either
did not get this or did not care. Millennials have a thing about
broadsheets. They’ve grown up reading on phones, that smooth path of
entry. They can’t stand unwieldiness—following a piece from front page
to jump, and all that folding, and the ink stains your fingers.

In 2007, Kushner redesigned the Observer, took it tabloid. The first
issue hit the streets in February. There are pictures of Kushner handing
out copies outside Grand Central—he wears an overcoat, is red-cheeked
and smiling, but looks cold. Kaplan tried to put the best face on it,
but, for a lot of us, the moment the paper went tabloid, The New York
Observer
ceased to exist.

Things got worse. The paper stopped reviewing books, then quit high
culture altogether. Because . . . boring! In-depth articles gave way
to pithy pieces; pithy pieces gave way to lists—“If You Want to
Radically Change Your Life, You Need to Take This First Step” —which
gave way to listicles, graphics. We watched that cool, gimlet-eyed paper
turn into Internet, bubbles melting into bubbles. Though Kushner has
come to mean Trump, who is the oldest person the world has ever known,
he is in fact a pure product of this moment, as modern as we get. He has
climbed out of the World Wide Web, created by the medium that went on to
remake the culture. Long stories became short because who can stare at
one object for that length of time? You have to check Twitter and
Instagram and e-mail and texts, and while checking all that you lose
your place and end up reading the same sentence three times, and what’s
this story about anyway? The Observer, like a lot of papers, remade
itself from stately old town into Potemkin village. The buildings look
colorful and grand, but as soon as you step through the door, you’re
back outside. There is no interior to any of them, no back.

Peter Kaplan resigned in 2009, plunging the staff into blue gloom.
“Kaplan is a classy guy, but he’s old-school,” Kushner told staff, as
reported in New York magazine. “If we were doing our jobs right, Gawker
wouldn’t have a reason to exist.” After that, Kushner was like
Steinbrenner in the 1980s, running through editor after editor: Tom
McGeveran, Kyle Pope, Elizabeth Spiers, Ken Kurson. “When I worked for
him, I didn’t think he had a realistic view of his own capabilities,”
Spiers wrote in The Washington Post, “since, like his father-in-law, he seemed to view his wealth and its concomitant accoutrements as rewards
for his personal success in business, and not something he would have
had in any case. To me, he appeared to view his position and net worth
as the products of an essentially meritocratic process.”

In March 2013, Observer staff and alumni gathered in the Pool Room of
the Four Seasons restaurant to celebrate the paper’s 25th anniversary. A
Russian novelist would open with the arrival of each guest. Bloomberg
with his fleet of town cars. Ivanka in a plain black dress. Donald in a
dark suit with a placid blue tie—you read his tie as you read a mood
ring. Blue is good. Jamie Tisch and Wendi Deng Murdoch. Katie Couric.
Cory Booker. Harvey Weinstein. Spike Lee in a green cap and big coat
with shiny sleeves. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who, standing at the
carving board, says, “Just some meatballs.” (Vogue covered the party
in great detail on its Web site.) Peter Kaplan looked skinny,
diminished. He’d come to celebrate the paper—his life’s work—but was
not well. He would die of cancer the following November at age 59.

Mayor Bloomberg stood to speak. Taking the mic, he smiled and said,
“When I first heard about this 25th-birthday party I thought, Wow,
Jared, you’re growing up so fast! . . . I can’t wait to see what your
father-in-law is going to tweet about tonight.”

There was birthday cake and sparklers. When you read the words Jared
said to the crowd, they do not seem terrible, but Observer hands were
offended, hurt.

Kushner did not give proper credit to Kaplan—that was the general
sentiment. He spoke of the paper as if it had been small and struggling
before he—Kushner—saved it, whereas in fact, these same people will
tell you, the paper began to spiral soon after Jared took over.

The Observer stopped publishing a print edition in November 2016. It
continues on as a Web site, deadheading down a ghost road. At this
writing, the home page carries the following stories: “Five Proven Ways
to Make a Living Traveling the World” ; “When the Sun Goes Dark: Five
Questions Answered About the Solar Eclipse” ; “True Love Is Dead as
Chris Pratt and Anna Faris Announce Separation.”

(14)

The 41-story office tower on Fifth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets
in Manhattan was built in 1957. Because the address is 666 Fifth, the
penthouse restaurant was named Top of the Sixes. Sophistication spiked
with menace. In Revelation, 666 is identified as the Number of the
Beast. (“Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast,
for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore
and six.”) The Kushner Companies purchased the building in January
2007, paying $1.8 billion, a record in Manhattan. The Kushners put up
$500 million and borrowed the rest from banks and partner Vornado
Realty Trust, a publicly traded company run by Steve Roth. This meant a
$1.2 billion mortgage—a super jumbo—with interest-only payments for
the first several years. It was considered a vast overpayment, one of
the most puzzling deals ever made in New York, even before the market
crashed. When it did, the rents at 666, meant to cover interest payments
and building costs, plummeted or else vanished. To this day, the tower
is 30 percent vacant.

Just like that, 666 was underwater, the asset worth far less than the
loan. The Kushner company lost perhaps 10 million a year on the
building—it’s not animate, yet it bleeds. Kushner sold pieces of the
tower to cover the losses—this bit to the Carlyle Group, that bit to
Vornado. “But the bleeding continued,” Observer alum Charles Bagli
wrote in the Times. “[In 2009], with the tower’s reserve funds
nearly exhausted and the owner losing as much as $30 million, the
mortgage holder appointed a ‘special servicer’ to oversee 666 Fifth
Avenue. Such a company manages a property loan when the borrower is in
danger of falling into default.”

The company, under the leadership of Jared’s father and sister
Nicole—Jared sold his stake to a family trust when he went to work in
Washington—is in desperate need of a new investor, a fat cat who will
refinance and infuse capital. The big play is a teardown: raise
billions, then replace the existing structure with a 1,400-foot tower
dreamed up by the late architect Zaha Hadid: gleaming glass, condos,
mall. For a time, it seemed the Kushner company would enlist Chinese
financial conglomerate Anbang in the project, but Anbang, with its
tangled network of shell companies, is closely tied to Beijing’s elite.
That plus Trump drew tremendous scrutiny. The deal fell apart last
March, leaving the Kushners to scramble for new partners. The mortgage
comes due on 666 in less than two years. If the Kushners don’t figure
out something, they could lose their investment. Simply put, this Spruce
Goose of a deal must be considered among the worst in the history of
Manhattan real estate.

Think about it: before entering the White House, Jared had made just two
significant business plays—both less than stellar. He bought the
Observer a moment before the newspaper industry collapsed. He bought 666
Fifth a moment before the real-estate bubble burst. Was this just a case
of a neophyte reaching for a shiny object, or was there something else
in play? Maybe Charlie Kushner’s experience taught Jared there is
something more important than balance sheets. Charlie had all the money
in the world and still went to prison. By acquiring 666, Jared gave up
capital but acquired status, a place in the city. From New Jersey to 666
Fifth Avenue. No Manhattan position, no Ivanka. No Ivanka, no Air Force
One.

(15)

I called several current and former Observer employees and asked them to
be interviewed for this story. Just about all agreed to talk, but none
would talk on the record. A couple of people insisted that our
communication move to encoded app. I asked a friend why everyone seemed
so spooked. “People are freaked about Trump,” he said. “Trump is all
about loyalty and is vindictive; Jared is his de facto favorite son; the
Kushners are also all about loyalty . . . so people are also freaked
about Jared. They project a lot onto him. He’s like the heir apparent in
a Mob family that happens to run the whole country. So there’s the big
question: Is he Sonny or is he Michael?”

Here’s what I asked: What about Fredo?

(16)

There was a sign on the Henry Hudson Parkway, astride a row of Trump
towers. It was meant to thank Donald for his donation, paid to maintain
this stretch of road, but someone had tinkered with the letters. Instead
of thanking Donald Trump it thanked Donald Rump.

(17)

Jared Kushner showed no particular interest in working for the campaign,
nor was he closer to his father-in-law than an average young husband.
He’d been a lifelong Democrat and would’ve supported Hillary in normal
circumstances. This changed on November 9, 2015, a Monday, when Donald
took Jared to a political event in Springfield, Illinois. You remember
those rallies: the angry crowds, the private plane, TRUMP in huge
letters on the side. “The candidate entered to the music of Twisted
Sister: ‘We’re not going to take it,’ ” Time reported.

Jared going to that rally is a fun-house version of Siddhartha Gautama,
the cosseted prince who would become Buddha, leaving the palace for the
first time. He’d never seen an old, poor, or sick person before. It was
like that with Jared. He was overwhelmed by this trip into the
hinterland—by the passion of the crowd, anger and need, the connection
with Trump. “People really saw hope in his message,” Kushner said in a
2016 Forbes interview. “They wanted the things that wouldn’t have been
obvious to a lot of people I would meet in the New York media world, the
Upper East Side, or at Robin Hood [Foundation] dinners.”

As Trump’s jet winged east, the enlightened prince buzzed with
excitement. He’d gone out comatose but come back awake. He believed in
his father-in-law now, believed he could and should win. He believed
he’d seen something hardly ever seen by people in the urban centers.
While you’d been at a cocktail party, he’d been exploring the river
bottom. “As Kushner has told it, the young scion glimpsed a world
outside his own Upper East Side bubble, a country roiled by grievance
and frustration, looking for the champion Trump was eager to become,”
Time explained.

(18)

Jared ran the Trump campaign’s Internet operation. Some say that his
work was crucial to victory—the boy-genius thesis. Others say Kushner
was essentially ballast. “We’re talking about a guy who isn’t
particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything,”
Harleen Kahlon, the digital maven who worked for Kushner at the
Observer, wrote on Facebook. She said he “has bought his way into
everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father)” and that
he is “deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the
N.Y.O., marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you
get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’).”
Kushner, she concluded, is “basically a shithead.”

(19)

Trump’s language and that of his followers was now and then tainted by
anti-Semitism—that’s what some believed. All the talk of evil bankers
and urban elites, the tweet that pictured a pile of money beneath a
Jewish star. People protested because people were afraid. Kushner’s
participation was especially galling. The hovering presence of this
Orthodox Jew seemed to stamp this unholy operation “Kosher.”

On July 5, 2016, Kushner was called out in his own newspaper—“An Open
Letter to Jared Kushner, from One of Your Jewish Employees” —by a
writer named Dana Schwartz. “You went to Harvard, and hold two graduate
degrees,” she wrote. “Please do not condescend to me and pretend you
don’t understand the imagery of a six-sided star when juxtaposed with
money and accusations of financial dishonesty. I’m asking you, not as a
‘gotcha’ journalist or as a liberal but as a human being: how do you
allow this? Because, Mr. Kushner, you are allowing this. Your
father-in-law’s repeated accidental winks to the white supremacist
community is perhaps a savvy political strategy if the neo-Nazis are
considered a sizable voting block—I confess, I haven’t done my
research on that front. But when you stand silent and smiling in the
background, his Jewish son-in-law, you’re giving his most hateful
supporters tacit approval.”

“My father-in-law is not an anti-Semite,” Kushner responded the next
day in the Observer. “It’s that simple, really. Donald Trump is not
anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist. Despite the best efforts of his
political opponents and a large swath of the media to hold Donald Trump
accountable for the utterances of even the most fringe of his
supporters—a standard to which no other candidate is ever held—the
worst that his detractors can fairly say about him is that he has been
careless in retweeting imagery that can be interpreted as
offensive. . . . This is not idle philosophy to me. I am the grandson
of Holocaust survivors. On December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor Day—the
Nazis surrounded the ghetto of Novogroduk, and sorted the residents into
two lines: those selected to die were put on the right; those who would
live were put on the left. My grandmother’s sister, Esther, raced into a
building to hide. A boy who had seen her running dragged her out and she
was one of about 5100 Jews to be killed during this first slaughter of
the Jews in Novogroduk. . . . It doesn’t take a ton of courage to join
a mob. It’s actually the easiest thing to do. What’s a little harder is
to weigh carefully a person’s actions over the course of a long and
exceptionally distinguished career. The best lesson I have learned from
watching this election from the front row is that we are all better off
when we challenge what we believe to be truths and seek the people who
disagree with us to try and understand their point of view.”

(20)

Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic and author of The
Crisis of Zionism,
went after Kushner in the spirit of the Passover
Seder. “Slavery . . . was meant to ensure that Jews would remember
powerlessness once they gained power,” Beinart wrote in The Forward,
perhaps the most prominent Jewish publication in the country. “Jared
Kushner is what happens when that memory fails.” He suggested that
Kushner’s alma mater the Frisch School “conduct the kind of
after-action report that the military conducts when its operations go
awry. Every synagogue where Kushner prayed regularly should ask itself
whether it bears some of the blame for having failed to instill in him
the obligations of Jewish memory. Even if it is too late to influence
Kushner, Modern Orthodox leaders still can work to ensure that they do
not produce more like him in the years to come.”

(21)

Jared Kushner moved into the White House shortly after the inauguration,
landing one of the best staff offices in the West Wing. Previously
occupied by Obama advisers David Axelrod and David Plouffe, it’s just
feet from the Oval Office.

Here are some of the tasks Kushner has taken on while in D.C.: solving
the opioid crisis; upgrading technology in all federal agencies;
overhauling Veteran Affairs and workforce training; developing
infrastructure, including broadband Internet access for all Americans;
bringing peace to the Middle East.

Here are the tasks he’s accomplished:

(22)

According to The Wall Street Journal, members of Trump’s legal team
recently suggested Kushner give up that choice office and return to
private life. Because, of all the inner-circle advisers, Jared had taken
the most meetings and seemingly had the most entanglements with all
varieties of Russian. Also at issue “was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission
of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain
a security clearance,” the article explained. “[Kushner] later
updated the form several times to include what he has said were more
than 100 contacts with foreign officials.” A statement was drafted to
spin Kushner’s would-be resignation—it went that far, according to the
Journal. It must remain in some executive-branch file, a suggestion of
the future that did not happen but may happen still. The statement
expressed regret for a political eco-system so poisonous it can make
even a naive sit-down with some helpful Russians seem sinister. Of
course, anyone who has studied Trump knows he’d never send Kushner into
the outer dark. It’s hard enough to dump a golf pro. How do you exile a
son-in-law?

(23)

Jared Kushner’s life can be seen as a lark, an inheritance, a goof. Or
it can be seen more grandly as an attempt to get back what was lost, to
undo the series of disasters set in train at the Fontainebleau. Charlie
went to prison. Jared might be in trouble of his own. He has been named
as a person of interest in the Russia investigation. His father lost
everything. In three moves, Jared got everything back. In three more, he
could lose it all again. No one knows where it will end.

ivanka trump jared kushner

CAN WE HELP?

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attend a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

Photo: By Zach Gibson/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Kushner, President Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump at the White House.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Kushner, President Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump at the White House.

Photo: By Shealah Craighead/White House/Polaris.

Kushner, Trump, and their children disembark from Air Force One in West Palm Beach.

Kushner, Trump, and their children disembark from Air Force One in West Palm Beach.

Photo: From A.P. Images/REX/Shutterstock.

Lebanese delegates and journalists pose for selfies with Trump and Kushner in the Rose Garden.

Lebanese delegates and journalists pose for selfies with Trump and Kushner in the Rose Garden.

Photo: By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Trump and Kushner dance at Donald Trump’s “Liberty” Inaugural Ball.

Trump and Kushner dance at Donald Trump’s “Liberty” Inaugural Ball.

Photo: By Brian Snyder/Reuters.

Kushner whispers to Trump during a welcoming ceremony for her father at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Kushner whispers to Trump during a welcoming ceremony for her father at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Photo: By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

The couple seen arriving with their three children at JFK International Airport, where they boarded Marine One.

The couple seen arriving with their three children at JFK International Airport, where they boarded Marine One.

Photo: From Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo.

CAN WE HELP?

CAN WE HELP?

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attend a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

By Zach Gibson/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Kushner, President Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump at the White House.

By Shealah Craighead/White House/Polaris.

Kushner, Trump, and their children disembark from Air Force One in West Palm Beach.

From A.P. Images/REX/Shutterstock.

Lebanese delegates and journalists pose for selfies with Trump and Kushner in the Rose Garden.

By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Ivanka and Jared in a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

By Doug Mills/The New York Times/Redux.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, Trump, and I.M.F. managing director Christine Lagarde at the G-20 Summit, in Hamburg, Germany.

By Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

The couple on the day of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wedding, in Washington, D.C.

© Aked/Dunkind/Backgrid.

Attending a joint news conference with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the East Room of the White House.

By Andrew Harnik/A.P. Images.

The couple walking out of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

From A.P. Images/REX/Shutterstock.

Trump and Kushner dance at Donald Trump’s “Liberty” Inaugural Ball.

By Brian Snyder/Reuters.

Kushner whispers to Trump during a welcoming ceremony for her father at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

The couple seen arriving with their three children at JFK International Airport, where they boarded Marine One.

From Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo.

Source