Nov. 16, 2016 7:48 p.m. ET
Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who became a close adviser in the presidential campaign, is likely to take a top White House job, people familiar with the presidential transition say.
Jared Kushner, who has emerged as a lightning rod as departures have mounted in recent days from the team vetting possible appointees, is being pushed to join the president’s inner circle by new White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and presidential counselorStephen Bannon, these people say.
Mr. Kushner is regarded as Mr. Trump’s eyes and ears inside the evolving presidential transition. He is weighing formally joining his father-in-law in the White House, people familiar with the transition say. The 35-year-old Mr. Kushner would have a role in the White House along the lines of senior adviser or special counsel.
He also is weighing the option of maintaining an influential role informally, without an official White House post, according to people familiar with his thinking.
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Taking a high-level government post would come at a cost. To address potential conflicts of interest with his real-estate business, which has closed some $14 billion in deals under his leadership, Mr. Kushner’s lawyers are exploring options of possible “structures.” One option would be a blind trust over which he would have no control or access. He would agree to suspend receiving any income or distribution from his real-estate and media holdings, people familiar with his thinking said.
If Mr. Kushner accepts the White House post, he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, who won’t have a formal role in the Trump administration, would likely need to relocate to the nation’s capital with their three young children. Taking that route would indicate “Jared recognizes and is inspired by the incredible opportunity to make a positive impact for America,” Ivanka Trump said.
It isn’t clear whether a federal anti-nepotism law that bans appointing a relative to a job in an “agency” applies to the White House, and Mr. Kushner has indicated he would avoid the issue by not taking pay for any White House work.
During the campaign, Mr. Kushner was a behind-the-scenes negotiator between feuding factions inside and outside the campaign, while campaign managers and Republican support came and went. His closeness to Mr. Trump now has lawmakers, potential administration appointees and business leaders reaching out to him in recent days, people in the transition team said.
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Some employees at his media company, The New York Observer, have criticized his political role and the tenor of Mr. Trump’s campaign. Another issue involving the Jewish community created controversy. In early July, the GOP nominee re-tweeted a graphic of Hillary Clinton that included a six-pointed star, a stack of cash and the words: “most corrupt candidate ever.” A chorus of critics charged that Mr. Trump’s action was anti-Semitic.
Mr. Kushner rushed to his defense. In his own newspaper, he published a letter describing his father-in-law as “an incredibly loving and tolerant person,” compared to the “actual, dangerous intolerance” faced by his grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. One Observer newspaper staff member openly rebuked him.
The soft-spoken Mr. Kushner, who typically dresses in khakis, crew-neck sweaters and athletic shoes, is the stylistic opposite of his father-in-law. He stays out of the limelight as assiduously as Mr. Trump seeks it. The two are linked, though, by real estate.
Mr. Kushner grew up in a successful New Jersey real-estate family, where he was steeped in Democratic politics by his well-connected family, which hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser.
Mr. Kushner’s father pleaded guilty in 2005 to corruption-related charges in exchange for a two-year prison sentence. The prosecutor of the elder Mr. Kushner was Chris Christie, now the governor of New Jersey and, until he was bounced from the role last Friday, head of the Trump transition.
Some of those Mr. Christie brought into the transition effort also were dismissed in recent days, leading some to speculate that Christie influences were being purged by Mr. Kushner in retaliation. That is denied by people familiar with the transition; two Trump advisers say it was Mr. Bannon who told Mr. Christie he was out.
Trump aides were upset both with the presence of lobbyists in the transition structure Mr. Christie put together, as well as the conviction of two of the governor’s aides in the so-called Bridgegate controversy in which traffic was intentionally snarled at the George Washington Bridge, according to two Trump advisers. Mr. Christie couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. Kushner effectively took over the family business in 2006 when he was 25 years old. He paid $1.8 billion in 2007 for a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue a few blocks from Trump Tower, and sold off most of the company’s New Jersey portfolio for about $2 billion at the height of the real-estate market boom.
Around the same time, the Orthodox Jewish Mr. Kushner began dating Ivanka Trump,who converted to his faith before they married in 2009 at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The couple live with their children in a penthouse in a Trump building on Park Avenue.
After Mr. Trump entered the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Kushner and his wife, pregnant with their third child, occasionally accompanied him on the stump. At rallies, Ms. Trump was often recognized as a successful entrepreneur for her fashion brand and as a Trump executive, but Mr. Kushner disappeared into the crowds and walked anonymously within them. “I’m learning a whole new perspective of this country from the people at these events,” his friend NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recalled Mr. Kusher telling him.
- 1981: Born Jan. 10, 1981, in Livingston, N.J.
- 2003: Graduated from Harvard University, where he bought and flipped apartments as a side business
- 2005: His father, Charles Kushner, pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges in a case brought by then-U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie
- 2006: Effectively took over the real-estate empire, Kushner Cos., at 25 years old
- 2007: Paid $1.8 billion for a Fifth Avenue skyscraper a few blocks from Trump Tower
- 2009: Married Ivanka Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
- 2015: Began attending Trump rallies with Ivanka
- 2016: Assumed key role as a close Trump adviser and confidant, as well as operational guru of campaign
After Mr. Trump finished second behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Mr. Kushner jumped in directly to upgrade a shoestring operation. Because then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski preferred to travel with the candidate, headquarters suffered. Mr. Kushner quietly worked to build a campaign infrastructure by setting up actual departments, including digital/social media, data, scheduling, policy and budget, campaign aides said.
By the latter stages of the campaign, Mr. Kushner was with Mr. Trump almost constantly, except for Jewish holidays. He picked venues for campaign events, and weighed where dollars were to be spent, including buying digital and TV ads in key media markets and adjusting the ground game when daily polling data showed voter shifts. He also approved Mr. Trump’s travel plans, sometimes down to exact venues, campaign aides said.
On election day, the first exit polls showed Mrs. Clinton ahead in battleground states in the late afternoon, which was contrary to the campaign’s internal data. Mr. Kushner, who had set up the data operation, and Mr. Bannon left the “war room” to talk privately on a Trump Tower deck overlooking Fifth Avenue. “Did we miss it?” they asked each other, according to someone told about the conversation.
Mr. Kushner then asked his father-in-law, his wife and her two brothers to call talk radio shows in specific counties where polls were still open, a Trump adviser said.
Now Mr. Kushner is deeply involved with the transition team in selecting cabinet nominees for the new Trump administration, an adviser said.
A few months ago, he named a new president for the Kushner real-estate empire, reducing his own operational role. Under his leadership, Kushner Cos. had developed projects in emerging and trendy areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
With his current attention on the transition, Mr. Kushner is reaching out to potential cabinet contenders and fielding calls from them. He added Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, to the list of education secretary prospects. Although she’s a Democrat, she’s clashed with the progressive wing and teachers union.
Mr. Kushner also is working with tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who’s on the transition team, to recruit tech talent into the government. Mr. Kushner is organizing roundtables of Silicon Valley figures to help lure tech experts into the new administration for policy and technology roles.
Perhaps his most important role, though, is that of son-in-law, in which he meets Mr. Trump’s need to talk shop constantly. The president-elect skips small talk, which was true even when the family left Trump Tower on Tuesday night, leaving the transition press pool behind, for a celebratory dinner at the 21 Club in Manhattan. Messrs. Trump and Kushner, along with the family, spent most of the evening discussing the president-elect’s thinking on who would be his secretaries of Treasury, Defense and other key departments, advisers said.
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