US & Canada

Jared Kushner: The quiet millionaire with Donald Trump's ear

Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump acknowledge the crowd at the New York Hilton Midtown Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jared Kushner smiles for the camera at Donald Trump's presidential victory party

As the world waited for Donald Trump and President Obama to emerge from their meeting at the White House in November, the cameras tracked a young man strolling across the South Lawn, deep in conversation with Mr Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

Mr McDonough was briefing Jared Kushner, a softly-spoken 35-year-old millionaire who is expected to be named senior adviser to the president, according to Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway.

Mr Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, exerted a powerful influence over the Trump campaign - including digital strategy and top-level hires - and is set to carry that clout into the White House.

Usually camera-shy and happy to operate behind the scenes, Mr Kushner is a vastly wealthy property developer and publisher who served on Mr Trump's transition team and is said to have the president-elect's ear.

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He owns 666 Fifth Avenue, a skyscraper a few blocks down from Trump Tower, and in 2006, at just 25, he bought the once-venerable New York Observer newspaper.

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Image caption Jared Kushner walks around the White House with President Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough

An Orthodox Jew whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, Mr Kushner used an editorial in the Observer to defend Mr Trump from accusations of anti-semitism when the candidate tweeted a composite picture of Hillary Clinton, a six-pointed star said by critics to evoke a Star of David, a pile of cash, and the words: "Most corrupt candidate ever."

"People see in him what they want to see," he wrote, "if they dislike his politics, they might see other things they dislike, such as racism."

If they like his politics, they might imagine they're hearing 'dog whistles'. He will touch subjects politicians try to avoid. This is part of why he appeals to so many."

A vast inheritance, tainted by scandal

Jared Kushner was born and raised in comfort in Livingston, New Jersey, alongside two sisters and a brother. His grandparents had escaped during the war, arriving in the US in 1949, and his father Charles made his fortune as a New Jersey property mogul.

The young Jared won a place at Harvard despite poor grades, according to Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admissions: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges.

The year of his admission, according to Mr Golden's book, Charles Kushner donated $2.5 million to the university, along with similar one-off donations to Cornell and Princeton.

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Image caption Jared Kushner's father Charles was jailed for a range of offences including tax evasion

Like Mr Trump's father Fred, also a property mogul, Kushner senior was a controversial figure.

He was jailed for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. He admitted setting up his own brother-in-law with a prostitute, secretly filming the liaison, and sending the tape to his sister in an effort to dissuade them from testifying against him.

The man who prosecuted Kushner senior was the former US Attorney for New Jersey and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.

Jared Kushner is reported to have been involved in counselling his father-in-law to choose Mike Pence as his running mate, over Mr Christie.

Both Mr Kushner and Mr Trump inherited vast property empires from their fathers at a relatively young age, and their apparent bond may be based in part at least on similar experiences.

Mr Trump's father, Frederick Christ Trump, was also a controversial figure who was taken to court for alleged racial discrimination in housing allocation.

Trump senior, who was vigorously defended by his son Donald at the time, settled out of court without admitting guilt.

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Mr Kushner and Mr Trump also share a complete lack of political experience. In his New York Observer editorial, Mr Kushner offered a politics-as-business approach instead.

"Government is built with many layers to avoid making mistakes," he wrote. "The problem with this is that it costs a lot and little gets done. In business, we empower smart people to get jobs done and give them latitude on how to get there."

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Image caption Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka voted together last Tuesday for Donald Trump

Mr Trump has praised his son-in-law for being "very good at politics" and appears to trust his judgement. When controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired from the campaign in June, it was reported that Mr Kushner, having clashed with Mr Lewandowski, had pushed for him to get the chop.

His tenure as owner of the New York Observer has not been plain sailing. He clashed with the paper's respected editor of 15 years, Peter Kaplan, who resigned three years after Mr Kushner took over, and he is now on his sixth editor in seven years. The quality of the newspaper is said to have declined.

Like many of the business interests connected to the Trump campaign, it is not yet clear whether Mr Kushner's ownership of the paper will come to be seen as a clash with his connection to the president.

Speaking to the New York Times last year, he said his position as the owner of a newspaper with a real estate section did not clash with his business as a real estate developer.

"People make comments to me," he said. "But a lot of the developers don't understand that I'm not involved in the content."

In contrast to his father-in-law, Mr Kushner is said to be a calm and composed personality, camera-shy and reluctant to be in the forefront.

He is also slight, softly-spoken, and looks young even for his 35 years.

But his extensive involvement with the Trump campaign and reported bond with the president-elect suggest he could become an outsize influence in Washington.

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