Almost every Sunday for a year between 2005 and 2006, Jared Kushner would fly down to Alabama to visit his father, Charles, in federal prison. Kushner senior had been convicted of what Chris Christie called one of the most loathsome and disgusting crimes he'd ever prosecuted as a US attorney. (‘And I was the US attorney in New Jersey.’)
Kushner père was the biggest real estate mogul in New Jersey — worth as much as $2 billion — but he put it all at risk when he hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and arranged for the encounter, in...
Almost every Sunday for a year between 2005 and 2006, Jared Kushner would fly down to Alabama to visit his father, Charles, in federal prison. Kushner senior had been convicted of what Chris Christie called one of the most loathsome and disgusting crimes he’d ever prosecuted as a US attorney. (‘And I was the US attorney in New Jersey.’)
Kushner père was the biggest real estate mogul in New Jersey — worth as much as $2 billion — but he put it all at risk when he hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and arranged for the encounter, in a grim motel, to be secretly filmed. He sent the resulting tape to his sister, hoping perhaps to blackmail her and his brother-in-law into not giving evidence against him in a case about tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions. Or maybe the motive was nothing so rational, just a twisted fuck-you, revenge New Jersey style, or revenge Kushner style, since the family’s vicious feuding often seemed to make them resemble a Jewish Sopranos.
The prosecutor, Christie, went on to become governor of the state, then a failed presidential candidate, and later head of Donald Trump’s presidential transition. He lost that position, and any hope of an appointment in the new administration, because Charles’s son, Jared, just happened to be married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and, well, payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?
Jared went on to become senior adviser to the President, in charge of everything from government reform to peace in the Middle East, getting a trade deal with China, ensuring a supply of masks during the coronavirus pandemic, and, also, overseeing a White House task force handling the delicate matter of who should get a presidential pardon. So it was that with some 14,000 petitions for clemency, and just 94 pardons or commutations granted, one of those pardons went to a guy who sent his sister a blackmail tape of her husband getting a blowjob from a Russian hooker.
The best account of exactly what happened and how it happened is in a beautiful piece by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine, published in 2009. It is pure New Jersey noir. The roots of Kushner’s downfall lay in his bitter rivalry with his brother, Murray. ‘There was never a time when Charlie and Murray Kushner were not in competition,’ Sherman writes. ‘Charlie Kushner’s fall is in one sense a kind of Cain and Abel story.’ Murray was smarter but Charlie — never Charles, to those who knew him — was more charismatic, ruthless and driven and it was Charlie who made a success of the family real estate business. Charlie wanted his brother out of the business. Murray told him: ‘If we can’t be partners, we can’t be brothers.’
Murray ended up suing Charlie. They settled the case but with all the allegations flying around, the FBI decided to investigate Charlie. Esther, their sister, took Murray’s side, and, quite naturally, so did her husband, a man named Billy Schulder. They were all cooperating with the FBI but Charlie thought that this united front had a weakness: Bill Schulder liked to screw around. Charlie Kushner found an Irish-American cop on the verge of retirement who was willing to set-up Schulder, if the price was right. A brown accordion folder containing $20,000 was pushed across the desk in Charlie’s office and, eventually, Schulder found himself in a room in the Red Bull Inn, on Route 22 in New Jersey, getting a blowjob from a ‘leggy blonde with a thick East European accent’. There was a video camera hidden in the digital alarm clock on the bedside table. ‘I feel like I’m in a movie,’ Billy cried out, unaware that his words were literally true.
This is Sherman’s (superb) reporting and Charlie Kushner denies aspects of it. He denies that he planned to mail the tape and some photographs not only to his sister, Esther, but to her adult children as well. However, he does not deny other parts of Sherman’s story, for instance that he tried a similar set-up with a bookkeeper he had identified as Murray’s mole inside the real estate company. The bookkeeper rejected a second hooker’s advances. And he does not deny that he contemptuously told members of his synagogue that Murray was a moser, an informant. This was young Jared’s attitude, too. In 2009, he spoke to Sherman about his father’s conviction and jail sentence and what had brought it about. ‘His siblings stole every piece of paper from his office, and they took it to the government…siblings that he literally made wealthy for doing nothing. He gave them interests in the business for nothing.’
Jared went on: ‘All he did was put the tape together and send it. Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying “You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.”’ Remember, this is the man who — if media reports are correct — was put in charge of the White House task force deciding pardons. Did Jared recuse himself from any discussion of his father’s petition for clemency? We don’t know — and even if he wasn’t in the room, others would have known how he felt about the case.
This is who the Trumps and the Kushners are, who we’ve always known them to be. But this grubby piece of self-dealing is far from the most worrying pardon announced by Trump in the his last few weeks in the White House. Trump’s pardon of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is far more important.
Was this Manafort’s long awaited pay-off for not flipping for Robert Mueller’s investigators? While the Mueller inquiry was going on, amid feverish speculation about who was cooperating, Trump publicly praised Manafort for refusing to ‘break’. Manafort supposedly told his deputy, Rick Gates — who did flip — to ‘sit tight, we’ll be taken care of.’
Among other things, Mueller wanted to know exactly what happened when Manafort went to Europe during the campaign to meet a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik, identified later as (probably) an agent of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report said there was evidence that Kilimnik was connected to the Russian operation to hack and leak Democratic Party emails to help get Trump elected. In a note on the committee’s report, Sen. Ron Wyden speaks of redacted intelligence reports with ‘indications of Manafort’s own connections to [the hack and leak] operations.’
What did Paul Manafort know and refuse to reveal to Mueller’s team? Rep. Adam Schiff had this interpretation of what happened: ‘During the Mueller investigation, Trump’s lawyer floated a pardon to Manafort. Manafort withdrew his cooperation with prosecutors, lied, was convicted, and then Trump praised him for not “ratting”.Trump’s pardon now completes the corrupt scheme.’
Most Americans are heartily sick of the Russia conspiracy — or the Russia hoax, depending on your point of view — but if Trump was trying to shut Manafort up, he succeeded…was Trump’s pardon of Manafort the last act of the Russia conspiracy?