Michael Kranish is an investigative political reporter with The Washington Post and a co-author of “Trump Revealed.” He is the author of “The World’s Fastest Man: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor, America’s First Black Sports Hero,” to be published in May.
Four months after President Trump named son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka as White House advisers, he was chided by a former Justice Department official named Mark Corallo. “You could start draining the swamp by removing your in-laws,” tweeted Corallo, a conservative Republican.
Yet shortly after the caustic tweet, Corallo was surprised to find himself being asked to become the White House’s communications director. He turned that offer down, pleading that he needed time with his family. Then he was asked to be a communications consultant for the legal team. He agreed on the condition that he would never have to say anything negative about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who he said “walks on water.”
As Corallo settled into his position, however, his concerns about the actions of Ivanka Trump and Kushner only increased, according to Vicky Ward’s book “Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.” The Kushners were “reckless,” Corallo is quoted as saying. He cited his concern that they were present when President Trump was discussing the Mueller probe with his lawyers. That, according to Corallo, would make them witnesses to a conversation, potentially undercutting the otherwise-privileged discussions between the president and his attorneys.
Amid all this, Corallo is quoted as saying that Kushner pressed him on why he wouldn’t accept the job as White House communications director.
“Don’t you want to serve your country?” Kushner asked Corallo, according to Ward’s book.
“Young man, my three years at the butt end of an M16 checked that box,” Corallo, an Army veteran, is quoted as responding. (Kushner’s version of events is not given in the book.)
The Corallo anecdotes are among the most striking in Ward’s book because, unlike many others cited, he spoke on the record to her, according to the endnotes.
There are no blockbuster revelations here regarding Kushner’s meeting with a Russian banker or his involvement in a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, two issues that have drawn the interest of investigators. Ward is, however, particularly critical of Trump’s decision to hand over Middle East policy to Kushner, which led to clashes with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others.
Ward delves into questions about whether Kushner misused his role as a way to find financing to rescue a Fifth Avenue property in Manhattan and suggests that Kushner dim-wittedly nearly dragged the United States into a war in the region. It is a dark and mostly one-sided portrait, one with which the Kushner and Trump families no doubt will disagree.
For much of the book, as is often the case with volumes seeking to tell an inside story of the White House, the sources are anonymous and highly critical. If Ward secured on-the-record interviews with her two main subjects, she does not say so; their voices are mostly filtered through the mouths of others, most of whom may have a vested interest in spinning conversations a certain way. It is, to be sure, a particularly challenging task that Ward has undertaken, given Kushner’s rare public comments and the couple’s obsession with maintaining their image and protecting the president.
The greatest challenge of the book, and one that is likely to raise questions, is fulfilling the third element of Ward’s subtitle: “Greed. Ambition. Corruption.” The latter word connotes criminality; while Kushner’s father served time in prison, neither Jared nor Ivanka has been accused of crimes by a prosecutor.
In the text, while Ward hammers the couple on page after page, she doesn’t explicitly accuse them of corruption as defined by legal statutes. Perhaps the closest she comes is when she writes that “it’s been reported” that Ivanka Trump oversaw her family’s project in Azerbaijan in which a partner’s brother had been described in a U.S. diplomatic cable as corrupt.
“As a result, it’s possible that the Trump Organization violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” Ward writes, providing a notable hedge.
To be sure, President Trump and his family have thrown around such concepts loosely, and without hedging. During the 2016 campaign, he called Hillary Clinton the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!,” retweeting an image that encased the words in a Jewish star against a backdrop of U.S. currency, a tweet widely criticized as anti-Semitic. (Trump said he thought it was a sheriff’s star.) Clinton, like Jared and Ivanka, has not been charged by prosecutors with corruption.
Ward, who relies heavily on the reporting of others (noted in endnotes), as well as her own sources, has a tendency, particularly in the first half of the book, to make sweeping statements and repeat rumors, some of which she then bats down. She writes that one man “was rumored to sleep with men and hired prostitutes,” and says another was “not one to be troubled by ethics.”
Ward paints a sordid portrait of Kushner’s coming-of-age, retelling tales of how his father’s contributions to Harvard may have greased his way into the college. A war within the Kushner family led his father, Charles Kushner, to arrange for a prostitute to entrap a relative with whom he had feuded. Charles Kushner went to prison for his part in the scheme and other matters. Jared later told New York magazine that his father’s viewpoint was: “You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.”
To rehabilitate the family image, Ward writes, the elder Kushner adopted a plan that called for transitioning from owning garden apartments in New Jersey to acquiring a Fifth Avenue office tower, a “trophy” that would dazzle the doubters. In addition, Jared would buy the New York Observer to get friendly media treatment, and he would “date someone prominent.” While the father pulled the strings, the son got the credit — and later the blame — for buying the nation’s most expensive office property just before the Great Recession, leaving him with a staggering debt. As for the prominent woman, Kushner dated Ivanka Trump.
Donald Trump was not pleased at first, according to Ward. “Why couldn’t she have married Tom Brady?” he said, referring to the New England Patriots quarterback, Ward writes. “Have you seen how he throws a football?”
In the rather cynical portrait Ward draws, Ivanka, too, was strategic. Ward quotes her as saying in her own book, “The Trump Card”: “If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true.”
When President Trump said there were “very fine people, on both sides” of a Charlottesville clash during which white supremacists shouted “Jews will not replace us,” Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn threatened to resign, noting that some of his family members had been killed in the Holocaust. Ivanka urged him to stay, telling him: “My dad’s not a racist. He didn’t mean any of it; he’s not anti-Semitic,” according to Ward. Cohn remained in his post.
At first, Jared and Ivanka didn’t plan to work in the White House, but after Trump brought them in as advisers, they frequently clashed with chief strategist Stephen Bannon and others. An “epic” and profane fight took place between Bannon and Ivanka over who was leaking stories, Ward writes.
“Everybody knows you leak,” Bannon is reported to have told Ivanka.
“You’re a f---ing liar,” she is said to have responded. “Everything that comes out of your mouth is a f---ing lie.”
“Go f--- yourself. . . . You are nothing,” Bannon reportedly said.
The president, according to Ward, eventually wanted to send Jared and Ivanka back to New York, but after so many firings and resignations in the White House, he needed them more than ever.
Some of their activities have remained largely opaque. And Ward can take speculation about corruption only so far. She writes that only after a thorough investigation by Congress and other authorities might they “finally face a reckoning.”
By Vicky Ward
St. Martin’s. 286 pp. $28.99