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Meet Donald Trump’s ultimate fixer: his son-in-law

Jared Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, is now a powerful figure in US politics.

In October 2016, the New York Observer asked a panel of real-estate moguls, including the paper’s proprietor, Jared Kushner, a simple question: Hillary or Donald? Kushner, who had married Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, responded with just two words – “Family first.” Now he has been named as a senior adviser to Trump, the incoming president of the United States.

As the candidate’s son-in-law, Kushner was a rare constant presence in the Trump campaign. On election night, after it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not win the White House, it was Kushner who took over his father-in-law’s mobile phone to screen the calls coming in for the new president-elect.

Jared Kushner was born in 1981 in New Jersey, the son of the real-estate developer and Democratic Party donor Charles Kushner. He went on to get a degree in sociology from Harvard in 2003. The investigative journalist Daniel Golden, in his 2006 book The Price of Admission, links a $2.5m donation that Charles Kushner made to Harvard University in 1998 with the acceptance of his son there the following year. Golden quotes a former official from Kushner’s school saying that his grades weren’t good enough for the Ivy League institution. (A spokeswoman for Kushner has denied this allegation.)

While at Harvard, Kushner made money buying and selling buildings, supported by his family’s fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200m. When he was 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10m, a move that helped him forge friendships with the likes of Rupert Murdoch. The paper’s print edition ceased production in November 2016.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. He served part of his two-year sentence in a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, where his wife and son visited him every week.

Jared Kushner’s favourite book is Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the hero takes revenge on the enemies who wrongfully imprisoned him. For Kushner, it was the New Jersey governor Chris Christie whom he had in his sights. As a state attorney, Christie had prosecuted Kushner’s father. In December 2016, Christie was ousted as head of Trump’s transition team, reportedly at Kushner’s instigation.

Kushner practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump converted before their wedding. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Kushner and his wife, who have three children, keep the Sabbath, although Kushner broke this during the campaign, attending a crisis meeting at Trump Tower on a Saturday when an audio tape emerged of Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”.

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, has been accused of allowing the website to run anti-Semitic articles. After allegations of anti-Semitism were made against Trump, Kushner wrote that his father-in-law was “an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife”.

This support for Trump has come at a personal cost to Kushner. Friends from his liberal New York set have turned against him. In an interview with Forbes in December, he called this process an “exfoliation”. Kushner has said that going to rallies and meeting “ordinary Americans” helped him see Donald Trump’s appeal. At one rally, Trump spoke of his son-in-law’s new-found enthusiasm: “I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate.”

“Soft-spoken” is how Kushner is usually described, although a New York magazine profile claims that “his voice is just literally soft”, and sources say that his whispering conceals an aggressive manner. He is pale, slight and tall – a 2015 Vogue article said that both Kushner and his wife have “a kind of otherworldly, almost alien attractiveness, as if they’ve come from the future”.

In one sense, Kushner is the future. He is now a powerful figure in US politics, having met Boris Johnson, opened lines of communication with Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel and been instrumental in several Wall Street appointments to Trump’s cabinet.

Kushner and Ivanka are moving with their children to a $5.6m mansion in Washington, DC, so that he can work at the White House. It has been suggested that his new role contravenes a 1967 US federal law against nepotism in public appointments, but Kushner has said he will forgo a salary and is “committed to complying with federal ethics law”. Whether or not this law – originally passed in part because John F Kennedy nominated his brother Robert as attorney general – will prove to be an impediment remains to be seen.

What is certain is that Kushner’s fortune is built on his family’s real-estate empire, and now he has a job serving his father-in-law. Nepotism or not, his rise is a triumph of “family first”. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge

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Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.