The opening scene of the new book Kushner Inc. depicts Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, “America’s prince and princess,” dancing at an inaugural ball. Meanwhile Jared’s parents, Charles and Seryl, celebrate Shabbat a mile away, sniping at their other son and dreaming about the possibility of a presidential pardon for Charles. See, the book reminds us over and over, there’s a contrast between Jared and Ivanka’s serene public image and their sordid hidden motivations. The book, by former Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward, is the most comprehensive collection of Jared and Ivanka’s scandals, missteps, and personality flaws to date. If anyone, anywhere, has reported something negative about “Javanka,” Ward has found it. This week, for example, House Democrats warned that Jared has been using the messaging service WhatsApp to conduct official business, including communicating with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Ward mentions Kushner and MBS’s WhatsApp relationship in her book, having dug out the detail from a story in the Intercept last spring.
Kushner Inc. is very much of its genre—which is to say, contemporary White House palace-intrigue reporting. The most entertaining books on politics these days are often somewhat hazily sourced and heavily aggregated. This is a perfectly satisfying approach as long as the reader shares the author’s instincts about who the story’s villains and heroes are—and why would you pick up this book if you don’t? Ward repeats rumors about Charles Kushner’s bisexuality, Ivanka’s plastic surgery, and a “perhaps apocryphal” story about Jared kissing his father’s bare foot in a meeting. Anonymous sources tell Ward that the Kushner family scorned Jared’s brother’s now-wife, model Karlie Kloss, as an undereducated “shiksa” from Missouri; Seryl “likely saw Josh’s marriage to Kloss as her biggest failure.”
Ward also speculates about a profit-sharing agreement between Josh and Jared. Using the acronym BFPS, which stands for “Brothers First, Partners Second,” she suggests that each Kushner brother vowed to give half his profits to the other. The hedging is extreme: “This person was told,” “it may be a vehicle for an arrangement,” “if such an arrangement existed,” “it is possible that it changed,” capped off with an official denial from Josh’s spokesman. Some tidbits have been filtered through multiple sources before settling onto the page. One chapter opens by quoting a New York Times review of a Bob Woodward book, including a line directly from the Woodward book, which in itself was summarizing the impressions of an anonymous source. This is an Instagram-filter approach to journalism, making allegations both fuzzier and sexier.
The book is packaged as “the extraordinary story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump,” but Ward is not as interested in Ivanka. She depicts the first daughter as inauthentic, overconfident, petty, out of touch, and not particularly bright, but ultimately less diabolical than her husband. One source tells Ward that before Ivanka shuttered her fashion brand, she would hover near her father when he received calls from foreign dignitaries who she thought could be helpful to her. She would hop on the call to chit-chat (“something about yoga”) until her father cut her off. Another source who sat next to Ivanka at a dinner party tells Ward that Ivanka insisted that “libertarian” and “liberal” were the same thing. When he suggested they look it up, she allegedly replied, “I’ll take that under advisement.”
Kushner is the book’s real target. “While Ivanka’s behavior was irritating,” Ward writes, “Kushner was playing a game on a whole different level.” She characterizes Jared’s infamously shady handling of the deal to sell 666 Fifth Avenue, his distracted and dishonest approach to running the New York Observer, and his inept meddling in the White House’s relationship with Mexico, Israel, and Qatar. Unlike Ivanka’s unseemly self-promotion, Jared’s corruption seems to come in multiples of 1,000,000,000, and has put national security at risk.
Many of Ward’s meatier allegations are drawn from reporting in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and New York magazine. This is still a useful service. Kushner’s complex, sprawling scandals have dribbled out in newsprint over the course of many months, so it’s clarifying to have them compiled and summarized in one place, even when the reporting isn’t new. Ward also has several sources close to Steve Bannon and former secretary of state Rex Tillerson (if not the men themselves) who offer inside-the-room tidbits about those contentious relationships. When Tillerson told Kushner that his interference in the delicate relationship between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United States had put the country in danger, Kushner allegedly stormed out. “He’s the type of person who lights the firecracker and then realizes it’s going to blow up and hands it off,” a source tells Ward, in a typically juicy quote.
Like last year’s Michael Wolff best-seller Fire and Fury, Kushner Inc. serves its readers exactly what they are craving. I fondly remember a 2010 weekend I stayed inside with John Edwards aide Andrew Young’s dishy tell-all The Politician. I gobbled up every word of that book, and now can’t imagine ever returning to it. Anything this delicious comes with an expiration date, and might leave you feeling a little ill afterward. But it’s still helplessly fun to devour.
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