Jared Kushner: Donald Trump's trusted and powerful son-in-law

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who played a key role in his winning campaign, is making headlines this week for reportedly being at the centre of infighting among members of the president-elect’s transition team.

There are also reports that Trump requested top-secret clearance for Kushner so that he could join him for his daily presidential briefings.

Kushner, known to be quiet and unassuming, now finds himself in the spotlight — whether he likes it or not. It’s not clear what role, if any, Kushner will play in the Trump White House. But whether in a formal or informal position, it appears as though he has the ear of the president-elect and is poised to be an influence going forward.

So, who is he?

Kushner, 35, married into the Trump family in 2009 when he wed Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka. The occasion — which included some 500 guests — merged two rich and prominent New York families known for their vast real estate businesses.

Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Kushner, and the couple is raising their three young children in the Orthodox Jewish faith.

Kushner, like his father-in-law, got into the real estate business at a young age and learned it from his father. Kushner Companies is a multi-billion dollar empire that owns thousands of apartments, retail and office units in New York City and beyond.

His father, Charles — like Trump — was a frequent donor to political campaigns and was known as a major financier of Democrat candidates. His campaign contributions got him into trouble with the law, and in 2005 he was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to more than a dozen counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.

Kushner family drama

Drama and scandal enveloped the Kushner family. Charles believed his sister and her husband were helping the authorities who were digging into his political contributions — they were — and in an act of retaliation, he set a trap for his brother-in-law.

He hired a prostitute, who posed as a stranded motorist. His brother-in-law fell for the ruse, met her at a hotel where Charles had a secret camera installed, and caught them in the act. He then mailed images from the videotape to his sister, who shared them with investigators.

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President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in June, 2016, with his son-in-law Jared Kushner beside him. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Charles stepped down from the company, spent about a year behind bars, and young Kushner started running the business — at age 24. In 2006, Kushner diversified his real-estate-heavy investment portfolio by buying the New York Observer newspaper, of which he remains publisher.  

No one could have predicted that his father’s legal saga from a decade ago would have an impact on the aftermath of his father-in-law’s historic 2016 presidential election victory — but it has. That’s because the man who prosecuted Kushner’s father is none other than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

At the time, Christie was the U.S. attorney. He called the crimes “vile and heinous acts” and celebrated the plea deal that was reached as a huge victory. Christie went on to become governor and he ran against Trump for the Republican nomination.

He dropped out of the race, endorsed Trump and was drawn into his inner circle. Trump named him head of his transition team in May, and there was plenty of speculation that Christie was angling to be Trump’s running mate.

Soon after Trump won the election on Nov.8, Christie was demoted and vice president-elect Mike Pence replaced him as head of the transition team. Kushner is also a member of the transition team, along with Ivanka and her two brothers, Eric and Donald Jr.

Christie allies ousted

Other people who had been working on the transition were let go, including former Congressman Mike Rogers, who was ousted on Monday. “The people who have been asked to move on have some relationship with Chris Christie,” Rogers told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

U.S. media outlets are reporting that Kushner is settling a score with Christie, and that he was also influential in convincing Trump to pick Pence over Christie as his running mate.

The Trump campaign denies that Kushner is seeking revenge, but Jason Miller — a Trump spokesman — said in USA Today that Trump “seeks and respects his counsel very much.”

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Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump pose for a photo at a gala in New York City in May, 2016. Trump has publicly praised his son-in-law, saying “He’s very good at politics.” (Evan Agostini/Associated Press)

Kushner’s role in Trump’s bid for the White House was a minimal one at the start. He helped with his digital strategy, but as time went on, his involvement grew.

When his father-in-law was accused of anti-Semitism, Kushner wrote a piece in his own newspaper defending Trump, and he also helped Trump with a major speech to the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March.

He’s credited with helping orchestrate another pivotal moment of the campaign when Trump flew to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto. Kushner has also reportedly smoothed tensions between Trump and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns the company in charge of Fox News. Trump famously feuded with its star anchor Megyn Kelly.

Trump has publicly praised his son-in-law, saying “He’s very good at politics,” and it’s clear he’s leaning on him for advice. When Trump visited the White House to meet with President Barack Obama last week, he brought Kushner along. He was seen strolling about the grounds with Obama’s chief-of-staff Denis McDonough.

Because of nepotism laws, Trump can’t put Kushner on the White House payroll. But that doesn’t prevent him from taking his advice, which he appears more than willing to do.

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