The life of Jared Kushner: How a rich kid from New Jersey went from buying buildings with his dad and owning a newspaper to advising the president of the United States

Sunday, January 5th 2020. | Care

Senior Advisor Jared Kushner waits for a meeting with Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak, US President Donald Trump and others in the Cabinet Room of the White House September 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

  • Jared Kushner, a 38-year-old senior adviser to President Donald Trump, is, on the face of it, an unlikely pick for the man who's recently been ordered to get the US-Mexico border wall back on track.
  • After studying at Harvard (where he may have gotten into due to a $2.5 million donation), Kushner made a name for himself as the publisher of the New York Observer, and as a young real estate mogul, purchasing a building on Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion.
  • In 2007, he became even more well known when he married Ivanka Trump.
  • In 2016, he helped Trump become president, managing his online campaign. Since Trump's been in office, Kushner has played an important role in a number of areas, although his tenure has been rocky.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Jared Kushner is tougher than he looks.

The 38-year-old is part of Trump's closest circle of White House aides, and an integral part of the Trump family through his marriage to the president's daughter Ivanka.

Kushner's family background in Democratic politics might suggest he's an unlikely figure for a position in the current administration. But just like Trump, he comes from a wealthy and influential New York family that made its money in real estate.

After studying at Harvard and New York University, Kushner made a name for himself as young real estate magnate and a publisher of the New York Observer. He played a crucial role in the ascendancy of his father-in-law, and became a national figure in the process — even if he doesn't speak much.

According to Politico's David Freedlander, "beneath the unflappable golden exterior is someone unafraid to bungee jump or to counterpunch when he feels slighted."

Here's how Kushner rose to the top of American politics.

SEE ALSO: Jared Kushner's business received multimillion-dollar loans from 2 companies whose executives met with him at the White House

DON'T MISS: It's been a brutal day for Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner was born on January 10, 1981, in Livingston, New Jersey, to Seryl and Charles Kushner. Kushner's father was the son of Joseph Kushner, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Novogrudok, Belarus. He has three siblings, Joshua, Dara, and Nicole.

Sources: New York Magazine, US News, Esquire

Kushner's father Charles is a powerful real-estate developer and major Democratic donor who founded Kushner Companies, a New York real-estate firm, in 1985. He's played an important role in Kushner's life.

Sources: Biography.com, Forbes

For instance, when Kushner was 19, then Vice President Al Gore visited Livingston to give a speech. Charles chose Kushner to introduce him. According to Pat Sebold, who was there, he handled himself impressively for someone so young. It was not the last time Kushner would act older than his age.

Although Kushner had have some normal hobbies — he was on the high school basketball team, liked Billy Joel's music, and participated in quizzes.

After finishing high school in New Jersey, Kushner attended Harvard University, graduating in 2003 with a degree in government. There were reports that Kushner's father donated $2.5 million to boost his son's chances, but his family denied these claims. They had also donated to Cornell and Princeton.

ProPoblica's Daniel Golden published a book about wealthy people using donations to get their children into elite universities.

He spoke to a former official at Kushner's high school, who told him, "There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard. 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."

Sources: ProPublica, Biography.com, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Esquire

During his time in Harvard, Nitin Saigal, a friend who lived with Kushner, said after class Kushner would disappear for the day. "You'd say, 'Where have you been?' And he'd say he was in Somerville talking to a contractor because the doors on one of his buildings weren't working," Saigal told The New York Times.

According to "Kushner Inc.", an investigative book by Vicky Ward, Charles had a business associate regularly take Kushner out to dinner, and then report back to him to make sure Jared wasn't doing drugs, or dating people who weren't Jewish, The New York Times reported.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was sentenced to a year in prison for 18 counts of tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and witness tampering. The most memorable crime was Charles' retaliation against his sister, a government witness. He hired a prostitute for her husband and videotaped the ensuing encounter, then sent it to her.

Sources: US News, Biography.com, The New York Times

Jared, who had already been managing real estate in college, took over his father's duties at Kushner Companies while he was in jail in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a devoted son — he flew to Alabama to visit his father almost every weekend.

Source: The New York Times

Future New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was then a US attorney, was the one who prosecuted Charles Kushner. Kushner wouldn't forget Christie.

Sources: Biography.com, US News

At the time of his father's arrest, Kushner was interning for New York prosecutor Robert Morgenthau. His father's public trial convinced Jared to abandon his dream of becoming a prosecutor, and he threw himself into the family business.

Sources: US News. Time

But the trial had another effect on Kushner. He saw how the media fed on the scandal. According to The New York Times, he said in an interview, "I quickly learned that there really wasn't much benefit to being out there."

But according to Vanity Fair, the media's coverage did more than just that.

Emily Jane Fox wrote for the magazine, "Charlie Kushner's humiliation appears to have given Kushner perspective. Oftentimes, in the face of bad news or conflict, he remains supernaturally calm and collected. Part of that is because he was hardened by misfortune, even as every blow was softened by the availability of his massive fortune."

In 2006, Kushner purchased the New York Observer for $10 million. He bought the paper, known for its coverage of New York elites, because of the "great brand." But he also said, "I'd be lying if I said it didn't have an impact. When I bought the paper I had no idea the level of power and influence it had."

Source: The New York Times

Peter Kaplan was the editor when Kushner first bought the paper. He tried to show Kushner the ropes and publicly cited the film "Citizen Kane," as an example of his hope for Kushner — that every young man who owned a newspaper should find it fun.

But, according to New York Magazine, in private Kaplan referred to The Count of Monte Christo, a classic tale where the main character uses his wealth to extract revenge against his enemies years after he was wronged, once his enemies were no longer suspecting.

Kaplan was referring to what happened to his father. Kushner's family blamed the media for what happened to Charles.

Despite owning the paper, there were things he didn't understand about the business, Kyle Pope, one of his later editors, told The New York Times.

Pope told The New York Times, "The thing that he never got his head around is that you can write a negative story on someone and still be powerful in those circles. The paper can run a negative story, and it's not going to diminish his power. In fact, it would probably increase his power. He thought you had to write nice stories about people you might run into."

Over the 10 years Kushner was the publisher, the newspaper had five editors.

Politico reported that he also used the paper for his own purposes. Editor Elizabeth Spiers said he had her hunt for dirt on real estate developer Richard Mack after he refused to help Kushner when he was having cash flow difficulties.

Spiers said Kushner had three different reporters look for the story, after he continued insisting it was there, but it wasn't.

Kushner made some powerful friends as owner of the Observer. One of the most prominent was media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The pair now speak nearly every day, according to The New Yorker. Kushner assures him the White House is still functioning and Murdoch provides advice.

Along with Murdoch, Kushner has a network of older mentors, and this showed at his 35th birthday party, according to Esquire, where the median age was near 70.

Not too long afterwards, in 2006, Kushner bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a 41-story building for $1.8 billion — the most ever paid for a New York building.

It was also more than three times what the previous owner had paid for the building, six years before that.

According to The New Yorker, it was a Trump-like purchase. Just as Trump had done in the late 1980s, Kushner "overpaid for a trophy property, borrowing heavily, and subsequently encountered serious financial challenges that became public."

This was all before he graduated from New York University with a dual MBA and law degree in 2007.

Source: The New York Times

In 2007, the Kushner Companies sold all of its apartments, about 17,000, in New Jersey, for about the same amount it paid for 666 on Fifth Avenue. It signaled the Kushner's had arrived in New York. Or according to Politico, "the Kushners were no longer bit players from the Jersey swamps."

Sources: New York Magazine, Politico, The New York Times and ProPublica

In 2007, Kushner and Ivanka Trump started dating. Their outings were covered by the paparazzi, and according to Esquire, their relationship was, in a way, perfect.

They were perfect because they shared a deep knowledge of real estate, and were both "children of controversial fathers to whom they were unwaveringly, sometimes blindly, loyal."

They could also be mistaken for a political marriage, according to Time — "a merger of two family empires."

They had met a few years earlier in 2005, introduced by a real-estate broker who thought they could work together, according to The New Yorker.

They broke up in 2008, reportedly because Trump wasn't Jewish. But things were rekindled when Wendy Deng, Rupert Murdoch's third wife, invited Kushner and Ivanka onto Murdoch's family boat, without letting on that the other party was invited.

They got back together, and Ivanka later converted to Judaism.

In 2008, Kushner became the CEO of Kushner Companies. It was a difficult time. The 2008 recession hit hard. But the company survived thanks to management refinancing loans and figuring out rental deals for its retail spaces.

Sources: New York Magazine

In 2009, Kushner married Ivanka Trump. The couple wed at Trump's National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Source: Esquire

They also appeared on the teen drama "Gossip Girl" as themselves at a fictional Observer party. Josh Schwartz, one of the show's writers, said his one regret about their appearance was that Kushner didn't speak.

Source: Time

In 2011, to keep control of 666 Fifth Avenue, Kushner made a deal that saw 49.5% of the building go to an investment fund called Vornado. Kushner kept control, but the building that cost $1.8 billion had fallen to a value of $820 million.

Source: Esquire

From 2010 to 2017, Kushner Companies grew rapidly, taking part in more than $7 billion worth of real estate acquisitions. These included 17 buildings in Manhattan's East Village in 2013 worth $130 million, and multiple buildings in Brooklyn's Dumbo in 2016 worth $715 million.

Sources: Politico, ProPublica and The New York Times

Along with plush real estate in New York, the company also bought thousands of apartment complexes in struggling Rust Belt cities like Baltimore, Ohio, and Pittsburgh. By 2017, the company owned about 20,000 apartments in these cities.

Sources: Politico, ProPublica and The New York Times

A ProPublica investigation found that Kushner's company had been ruthlessly evicting people who failed to pay rent, as well as chasing late fees for years afterwards in some cases. In 2012, Kushner said it took "a lot of construction and a lot of evictions" but the outcome was "phenomenal."

Source: Politico

Kushner and Trump have three kids: Arabella (born in 2011), Joseph (born in 2013), and Theo (born in 2016).

Source: Business Insider

As his father-in-law ran for president, Kushner's focus turned to politics. He played a prominent role in Trump's 2016 presidential campaign running Trump's digital, online, and social-media efforts with help from Silicon Valley's elite.

According to the Washington Post, "By quietly building a successful online fundraising and targeting operation far beyond his candidate's comprehension, Kushner gave Trump a fighting chance to keep the 2016 presidential race close."

Before working with Trump, he had been a born-and-raised Democrat. But he did endorse Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race in the Observer, because he had been disappointed in former President Barack Obama, particularly his relations with Israel.

Source: The New York Times

People were surprised by Kushner's enthusiasm for his father-in-law's political ambitions. But he explained that his perceptions around politics had changed as he toured the country with Trump.

According to New York Magazine, he told a private audience of more than 400 that the "bubble" he lived in on the Upper East Side burst during the country-wide tour.

"I thought about immigration in terms of Silicon Valley's needs, about education the way Robin Hood Foundation philanthropists did, about climate change in terms of carbon emissions, not mining jobs," he said.

But that wasn't reflective of the country he saw on tour. As Time put it, he found "a country roiled by grievance and frustration, looking for the champion Trump was eager to become."

As Trump campaigned, Kushner was in the background. He prepped Trump before he spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and when Trump fought with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Kushner helped smooth out the relationship.

According to Esquire, he also defended Trump in a column in the Observer, after the candidate tweeted an image of Hilary Clinton with a Star of David. He wrote that Trump wasn't anti-Semitic or racist, and backed this up by talking about his grandparents' Holocaust experiences.

"It's important to me that people understand where I'm coming from. I know the difference between actual, dangerous intolerance versus these labels that get tossed around in an effort to score political points," Kushner wrote.

In July 2016, Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower. Trump Jr. later said he was promised "dirt" on former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton before the meeting.

Kushner said he had his assistant get him out of the meeting after he determined it wasn't worth his time.

"I quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting, and that the meeting was a waste of our time," Kushner wrote in a statement. Searching for "a polite way to leave and get back to my work," Kushner said, he wrote his assistant an email roughly 10 minutes into the meeting: "Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting."

In December 2016, Kushner reportedly told the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, that he was interested in setting up a communications back channel between Trump and Russia. Kislyak said he was taken aback by the suggestion.

Source: Washington Post

When Trump became president, Kushner assumed his role in the White House on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.

Sources: The Daily Beast, ProPublica and The New York Times

He stepped down as CEO from the family company, but remained a stakeholder. He also divested from some of the assets, including 666 Fifth Avenue, but retained investments worth up to $761 million.

The divesting were also largely sales to his brother or to a trust owned by his mother.

He stepped into the nation's spotlight as one of Trump's closest advisers, despite no political background. He told a congressional committee in July 2017, "My experience was in business, not politics, and it was not my initial intent to play a large role in my father-in-law's campaign."

Source: The New Yorker

His office is one of the best rooms in the White House, steps from the Oval Office, beside the president's dining room. Before Kushner, it was occupied by some of Obama's favored strategists.

Source: Time

And he quickly made his presence felt. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had been helping Trump transition into the White House, accused Kushner of carrying out a political "hit job," having him fired as payback for what happened to his father when Christie prosecuted him.

Source: The Guardian

As Kushner took a "crash course in diplomacy," according to The New York Times, he headed up Middle East peace talks. Trump said of Kushner, despite him having no diplomatic background, "If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can."

Sources: The Daily Beast, The New York Times

In a rare interview with the Washington Post in November 2017, Kushner said, "When I got to D.C., I came with an understanding that the problems here are so complex — and if they were easy problems, they would have been fixed before — and so I became more like the hedgehog, where it was more taking issues you care deeply about, going deep and devoting the time, energy and resources to trying to drive change."

Source: Washington Post

But in a leaked off-the-record summer lecture, Kushner told congressional interns he'd had enough of people telling him to understand the problems in the Middle East. "We don't want a history lesson. We've read enough books. Let's focus on, 'How do you come up with a conclusion to the situation?'" he told the interns.

Source: Wired

Kushner's load has been heavy — along with the Middle East peace deal expectations, he was meant to be establishing trade deals, pushing criminal justice reform, modernizing the government, fighting opioid addiction, and reforming veteran care.

Sources: The Washington Post, The Washington Post

Yet for all the work he had been doing, and all of the photos he'd been in the background of, much of the nation hadn't heard him speak until June 2017.

According to the Washington Post, Twitter had expected something resembling James Earl Jones, but instead heard Michael Cera.

In 2018, things became more complicated for Kushner — the special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating his efforts to get foreign backing for his family business during the presidential transition.

Source: Business Insider

In addition, as a scandal around former White House staff secretary Rob Porter's alleged domestic abuse mounted, it was revealed that Kushner, like Porter, was working under a temporary security clearance.

Source: Business Insider

In February 2018, Kushner lost his "top secret" clearance, and political commentators began to question his future in the White House. It was later disclosed to Congress that he didn't get clearance because of concerns about his business interests and the possibility of "foreign influence." It was later granted, after the Trump administration intervened.

Sources: Business Insider, The Guardian, The New Yorker

That same day, several other disastrous news stories broke. Four different countries were apparently seeking to manipulate Kushner, and his company reportedly received massive loans from firms he had met with in the White House.

Sources: Business Insider, The New York Times

He carried on with his job. In May 2018, he was in Jerusalem for the opening of the newly moved American embassy, a controversial decision. In his speech, he said, while presidents had backed down from moving the embassy, "this president delivered, because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it."

Source: ABC News

Despite the declarations, within the White House, there were struggles between Trump's aides, particularly between Kushner and former chief of staff John Kelly. Kelly was the one who downgraded his security clearance. Trump also reportedly asked Kelly to get Kushner and his daughter out of the White House and "back to New York."

Source: Vanity Fair

But in December 2018, Trump announced it was Kelly that was stepping down. The New York Times called it a "coup" for Ivanka and Kushner. One of the president's allies told the newspaper the couple were now "running the building."

Source: The New York Times

That same month Kushner was largely responsible for getting Trump to support an extensive prison and sentencing overhaul that got through the Senate. The New York Times called it a "rare success" for Kushner, who had been weathering his most difficult period in the White House.

Sources: The New York Times, The New York Times, CNN

In March 2019, Kushner was in hot water again when late Democrat Elijah Cummings said in a letter that he was using WhatsApp, an online messaging service, to communicate in his official capacity. Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell said the letter was not "completely accurate."

Sources: The Guardian, Reuters

In June 2019, Kushner announced a vision for what peace could look like in the Middle East, including $50 billion in regional investment projects. But Palestinian officials rejected it, especially after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Source: Washington Post

That same month, The Guardian published an investigation that found a company Kushner part-owns, called Cadre, had received $90 million from unknown foreign investors. Since Kushner works as an international envoy for the US, the discovery raised concerns about improper influence.

Source: The Guardian

But things carried on in the White House, and in October as impeachment proceedings began against Trump, it was Kushner, alongside White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who was put in charge of the president's impeachment strategy.

Source: CNN

In November 2019, Trump made Kushner the "de facto project manager" for his long-awaited border wall between Mexico and the US. Trump was frustrated with its slow progress. Kushner had some ideas about moving it forward, like installing cameras to live-stream the construction process.

Source: Washington Post

Looking forward, Kushner is in a strong position. He's kept himself close the president, and will help advise him through the 2020 presidential campaign.

Source: Washington Post

His political survival owes a lot to the fact that compared to many of Trump's other advisers, Kushner has proved himself competent. It undoubtedly helps that Trump puts family first.

Sources: Vanity Fair, Time

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