How Jared Kushner, like Donald Trump, used his rich, privileged upbringing to get to the White House

There's an unqualified rich kid about to have unimaginable political influence — and his name isn't Trump

Published November 17, 2016 5:07PM (EST)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Carolyn Kaster)

The one thing qualifying Jared Kushner for a spot in his father-in-law's White House could also disqualify him for a spot in his father-in-law's White House: nepotism.

Federal anti-nepotism law mandates, "A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official."

Kushner, 35, is President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law (considered a "relative" under the aforementioned U.S. code). But the New Jersey native is now eyeing a more legally ambiguous "special counsel" role, according to The Wall Street Journal. Assuming an informal advisory role in Trump's White House would allow Kushner, sans paycheck, to both skirt anti-nepotism law and maintain his businesses: Kushner Properties and Observer Media.

NBC News reported on Wednesday that Trump had requested Kushner "receive top-secret clearance to join him for his Presidential Daily Briefings, which began Tuesday." Trump designated Kushner and retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn "his staff-level companions for the briefings going forward," sources told NBC.

Trump, for his part, denied on Wednesday that he had sought such clearance, tweeting, "I am not trying to get 'top level security clearance' for my children. This was a typically false news story."

Anti-nepotism laws aside, Kushner is by no measure qualified to be advising even the most unqualified U.S. president. There is nothing on his résumé that indicates he should receive top secret clearance. (As an indication of his lack of knowledge about typical transitions, Kushner asked during his tour of the White House last week, how many of President Obama's West Wing staffers would be staying on board for Trump's term.)

According to a Boston Globe columnist, Kushner's father, billionaire real estate developer Charles, paid $2.5 million to get his son into Harvard and $3 million to get him into New York University, where Jared earned his MBA and law degrees."His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought, for sure, there was no way this was going to happen," an official from his high school told The Boston Globe in 2006. And so, a man who had no business being in poison ivy, let alone the Ivy League, was put on the fast track to getting his bogus meritocracy trophy.

As an undergrad, Jared Kushner made $20 million investing his family's money in nine residential buildings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to The Harvard Crimson. Then, in 2006, he spent $10 million of that on a controlling stake in The New York Observer. And in 2008, he assumed co-ownership, with his dad, of Kushner Companies.

His dodgy advisory role in his father-in-law's cabinet, meanwhile, adds yet another layer of conflicts of interest within the Trump family. Trump has maintained that his three kids — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — will control his assets while he's in office, but as The Washington Post's Paul Waldman warned in a Wednesday Op-Ed. "we could see the president enriching himself and his family on a scale that we normally associate with post-Soviet kleptocrats and Third World dictators,"

Waldman offered a handy hypothetical to illustrate the slippery slope between nepotism and corruption:

Ivanka and Donny Jr. go to some country — let’s say Russia, for no particular reason — and arrange a meeting with a developer. They suggest a deal that the Trump corporation has carried out in places all over the world, in which the local developer builds a hotel or resort, then slaps the Trump name on it and pays the Trumps millions of dollars in licensing fees for the privilege. And let’s say that developer just happens to have ties, publicly known or otherwise, to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. And let’s say he offers the Trump corporation very favorable terms — which, being savvy businesspeople, Ivanka and Donny accept. You’d then have a situation in which the Russian dictator has, through a proxy, deposited millions or even tens of millions of dollars into the bank account of the president of the United States.

All told, "the Trump kleptocracy," as Waldman called it, can be boiled down a few rich dads who've paved in gold their first-born sons' paths to public office: Charles Kushner paid Jared's way into the Ivy League and gave him pocket change to buy a weekly at age 26.

Donald Trump built an empire with a small $1 million loan and an undisclosed fraction of his dad Fred's estimated $250 million to $300 million estate. Despite numerous bankruptcies along the way, Trump parlayed his reputation as a businessman into an outsider's campaign for the top job in the land.

Now Donald Trump's namesake, 38, says he's running for mayor of New York City next year, meaning incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio might wind up in the third circle of the Trumps' hell.

By Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

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