Son-in-law to be Trump’s key adviser

In Photo: Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on November 18, 2016. Kushner, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, is to be named senior adviser to the president.

WASHINGTON—Jared Kushner will become a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law Donald J. Trump, cementing the New York real-estate executive’s role as a powerful and, at times, decisive influence on the president-elect.

Kushner, 35, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, is closer to Trump than any other adviser, a steady and stabilizing presence inside an often chaotic transition team who has provided input on most of his father-in-law’s most consequential hiring and firing decisions.

Trump described Kushner as “a tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition” in a statement issued early on Monday evening announcing an appointment that perhaps more than any other defines the way the incoming president will govern.

Ethics questions

Kushner plans to sell some of his rea-estate holdings and other assets, his lawyer said. Some ethics experts have questioned whether the appointment will be legal under federal antinepotism laws designed to prevent family ties from influencing the functioning of the US government.

Other presidents configured their White House hierarchies to mirror experiences in statehouses, on campaigns or at the heads of armies. Trump intends to adopt the management style of a New York real-estate empire, with family at the pinnacle and staff members, however trusted or talented, somewhere below.

Ivanka Trump, who also participated in her father’s campaign decisions, has no immediate plans to enter the administration and will restructure her portfolio of holdings. But she plans to step down from the management of the Trump Organization and the Ivanka Trump fashion brand, said Jamie S. Gorelick, Kushner’s lawyer.

Kushner’s plan is to sell assets to his brother and to a trust overseen by his mother, said Gorelick, who added that she had been consulting with federal ethics officials in an attempt to minimize opposition to Kushner’s appointment.

Under the arrangement, Kushner will divest his holdings in his family real-estate firm’s flagship property at 666 Fifth Avenue; sell his stake in the New York Observer newspaper; divest his interest in his brother’s firm, Thrive Capital; and restructure other investments.

He will also divest of all foreign investments, Gorelick said. He will have to recuse himself on matters that could relate to his wife’s businesses and his remaining holdings, Gorelick added.

First among equals

Kushner has been described by numerous transition staff members as the first among equals in Donald J. Trump’s high command. His new title belies the sweeping influence he will have behind the scenes.

The soft-spoken Kushner has often been described as having a calming effect on Trump, who is notorious for yelling at staff members during moments of tension. Kushner became the de-facto campaign manager in the spring, and his influence with Trump has expanded rapidly.

He is expected to play the same role in the White House, while the chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, provides the president-elect with strategic, messaging and communications advice, and Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the incoming chief of staff, runs day-to-day operations in the West Wing. Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, will have a direct line to the president on a range of issues.

Despite his lack of hands-on political experience before the 2016 campaign, Kushner earned the trust of his mercurial father-in-law during the campaign’s most turbulent moments, joining his wife and Trump’s adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., in ousting Corey Lewandowski, then the campaign manager, in the heat of the primary season.

Kushner was among those who pushed, campaign officials said, for the removal of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as the head of Trump’s transition team, and pressed for his father-in-law to appoint David M. Friedman, a Long Island lawyer, as ambassador to Israel.

Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, has also made an unlikely ally of Bannon, an icon of the closed-borders nationalist movement. When Bannon, a former Breitbart executive, came under attack from Democrats after he was appointed to a White House role, Kushner assured allies that he had complete faith in Bannon and described him as a man of character.

Will not take a salary

Kushner will not take a salary and plans to work on issues involving the Middle East and Israel; try to forge government partnerships with the private sector; and collaborate with Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, on matters involving free trade, Gorelick said.

The scion of a prominent Democratic family active in New Jersey politics, Kushner showed few early signs that he would become a national political power player. A Harvard graduate, he is a lifelong Democrat, liberal on social issues. Like his ideologically limber father-in-law, he has donated to Democratic candidates.

Kushner’s appointment was greeted with relief by some liberals, including Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, who views him as moderating influence in a Trump West Wing dominated by hard-line conservatives.

“I respect him a lot,” de Blasio said when asked about Kushner on Monday. “I’ve known him for years and find him to be a very reasonable person.”

Political transformation

Still, it remains unclear if Kushner is inclined to prod the president-elect to the left. By his own account he underwent something of a personal political transformation during the campaign, embracing Trump’s fiery and conservative economic message after spending months crisscrossing red and swing-state America.

Kushner’s new role became public a day after the disclosure that he would resign as chief executive of Kushner Cos., his family’s real-estate firm, and divest himself of “substantial assets,” including 666 Fifth Avenue.

Kushner will divest of his holdings in The Observer and has stepped down as its publisher; his brother-in-law, the newspaper’s chairman, will assume that role.

Trump is scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss his plans for dealing with myriad conflicts of interest raised by his sprawling international development, hotel, branding and entertainment empire.

Legal challenge

Gorelick said she was confident Kushner’s appointment would survive any legal challenge, and said Trump would seek an advisory opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“I am not saying there’s no legal argument on the other side,” she added. “I’m just saying we have the better argument and will prevail.”

Trump made it clear since he was elected that he wanted Kushner in his White House. Since December, Kushner and Gorelick’s team have consulted with the Office of Government Ethics to create a plan that would satisfy the legal requirements needed for him to serve.

Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, a real-estate developer who was once imprisoned for tax evasion, will take an increased role in the family company.

Norman L. Eisen, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama, said he thought Kushner’s decision to divest holdings raised pressure on Trump to follow suit, something the president-elect has been reluctant to do.

“What we are seeing now is, after the initial chaos of the Trump transition, that his nominees are now complying with the requirements of the law,” he said. “Rex Tillerson has retired from Exxon, and now Kushner is doing the same,” he added, referring to Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. “So it’s going to be hard for Trump to ignore 40 years of precedent and not do the same.”

New York Times News Service


Image Credits: Sam Hodgson/The New York Times