Web-only extended interview with investigative journalist Vicky Ward, author of “Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest is Vicky Ward, investigative journalist. Her new book, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Why don’t we just begin with the title, Vicky?
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Kushner, Inc.
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you call it that?
VICKY WARD: Because I think that, you know, all roads, in the book, lead back to the Kushners’ giant financial problems and that everything Jared and Ivanka have done in this White House is about self-service, not public service. You know, these are people who both grew up in cultures that have extraordinary disdain for rules, including the rule of law. They think that rules only apply to other people. You know, I mean, Jared has very strong feelings about government, going back to what happened to his father in 2004, when, you know, he pled guilty. The government, Chris Christie and his team of prosecutors in New Jersey, had extraordinary leverage. And I think that from—
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you tell that story, for those who are not familiar with what happened? This is before Chris Christie was governor, prosecutor in New Jersey. And what happened to Charles Kushner?
VICKY WARD: Well, Charles Kushner pled guilty to basically three counts: tax fraud, illegal campaign contributions, but the most sort of scandalous and notorious thing was that he set his own brother-in-law up in a very sordid sting involving a prostitute, that was witness tampering. And Christie had a lot of leverage over him, that I go into in the book, about his personal life that Charles Kushner did not want out in public, which is why he pled guilty so quickly. And Jared was aware of a lot of this. And I think that—you know, I included it in the book because it’s the only way that you can understand the intensity of the hatred that I think is engendered in Jared towards Christie, but towards the system. Right? This is—you know, there’s a Kushner mentality, and Charles had it, too, that, you know, we’re not here to—you know, we don’t wait to be accepted by Harvard; we pay our way into Harvard. You know—
AMY GOODMAN: And explain that.
VICKY WARD: So, Charles Kushner’s company sent a check to Harvard University for $2.5 million. Jared Kushner ended up going to Harvard. He was, at his high school, in the third track of the—in his class, there were five tracks. He was in the third. No, it was unheard of for anyone in the third track to go to any Ivy League school, let alone Harvard. And I quote one of his classmates, who was in the first track, getting—being rejected by Harvard and crying when she heard that Jared had got in. And a lot of the teachers were crying. They thought it was such an abuse of the system.
The Kushners are used to buying—buying their way through life. They think that money buys everything they need. You know, during Charles Kushner’s legal troubles—there’s a lawyer I quote in book who said, with their money, they virtually got him fired. You know, he said that they knew how to use money. So—
AMY GOODMAN: They got who fired?
VICKY WARD: They didn’t get him fired. He’s a guy called Theodore Moskowitz. He was involved in Charlie Kushner’s legal dispute with his brother.
But you asked me a bit bigger question. So that, yeah, there is this mindset, when Jared and Ivanka go into government, that rules are for other people. And I think that this is why you see the unfairness in, for example, the divestment, right? Everyone—you know, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson sell everything in order to go into the government. Jared Kushner and Ivanka don’t. I mean, they put most of their things into a trust run by family members. And, after all, they both come from family businesses.
And then Jared does something extraordinary: He closes the White House logs, the White House visitor logs, so that no one can see who he’s meeting with in the White House. And we only discover a whole year later, when John Kelly says, “No, no, the White House logs have got to be open,” that he’s met with Citigroup and Apollo, who have meanwhile given his family firm loans, and he’s met with Lloyd Blankfein, then the CEO of Goldman Sachs, at a time when Goldman Sachs had an investment in a company that Jared had not only actually put—he hadn’t put it on his White House disclosure form, and he hadn’t divested. I mean, this is—I mean, this is just remarkable. And no one knew. And the American people have a right to know who’s going in and out of the White House.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, has just written a piece in The Washington Post titled “Here’s the Truth About My Family and Our Business.” Charles Kushner writes, quote, “When he left the company, Jared took several steps to preclude conflicts of interest. At the recommendation of his legal counsel, in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics, he divested from more than 80 partnerships, including 666 Fifth Ave., at a substantial financial sacrifice. We walled off Jared from receiving information on the company, and he resigned as the controlling partner in more than 100 entities. This was all done out of an abundance of caution,” Charles Kushner wrote.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think this also was in response to your book?
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: It was today.
VICKY WARD: Yes. I mean, I think it’s just sad. I mean, there’s the—it’s just—this is a fantasy. This is version of what Charles Kushner wishes had happened. I mean, it’s almost more interesting for the things it leaves out than for what it actually says. You know, he starts off, and he portrays the Kushner family as sort of like this cookie-cutter family. No mention of the sordid scandal and him going to jail. He talks about the fact that it’s legal to seek foreign investment to finance trophy buildings in New York. He doesn’t explain that he had to seek foreign investment, because no one in America would touch this thing with a 50-foot barge pole. He talks about the fact that he was bailed out with a 99-year lease. He doesn’t say that that lease was paid up front. I mean, that’s just unheard of, and which is why Congress is investigating it. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that Qatar is involved with this lease?
VICKY WARD: Yes. The Qataris have a $1.8 billion stake in Brookfield. And, you know, Charlie Kushner has bragged about his relationship with the Qataris. I knew they were always there. And the Qataris—if the Qataris want to do this, Brookfield is not going to turn around and say no. I mean, to pay a 99-year lease up front, I mean, you’d have to have—any businessperson, you’d have to have your—for a building that’s worth—you know, would be better if it was just dirt, you’d have to have your head examined. It makes absolutely no financial sense.
And to the last point about Jared having no appearance of conflict of interest, how can he wall himself off from his family? I mean, this is a family business. And I also say in the book he has—you know, he’s also had, in the past, a profit-sharing agreement with his brother, by the way. You know, clearly, the security agencies don’t agree with Charles Kushner, because that’s why they wouldn’t give Charles—Jared Kushner a security clearance.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the significance of that, that only recently sort of exploded again, the whole issue of how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump got security clearances, Ivanka Trump going on television recently and outright saying Trump was not involved in her security clearance, when in fact—what do you understand happened?
VICKY WARD: Well, Trump had to override everybody. Absolutely everybody said, you know, they’re not—they cannot have security clearances. The—
AMY GOODMAN: You mean everyone in intelligence, who is—
VICKY WARD: Sorry, sorry. Any, yes, career intelligence agency. And, you know, Trump had to override this. And then, as we know, he lied about it, and Ivanka lied about it on television. I mean, for this to be the new norm in our leadership strikes me as just extraordinarily troubling and dangerous. I mean, you know, how do you even begin to right a system that’s so broken and is so dangerous?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to Ivanka Trump’s recent appearance on Fox News criticizing the Green New Deal’s proposal for guaranteed jobs for all Americans.
STEVE HILTON: You’ve got people who will see that offer from the Democrats, from the progressive Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—”Here’s the Green New Deal, here’s a guarantee of a job”—and think, “Yeah, that’s what I want. That simple.” What do you say to those people?
IVANKA TRUMP: I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. They’re—I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get. So I think this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job. They want the ability to live in a country where there’s the potential for upward mobility.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Ivanka Trump speaking to Fox News. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter saying, quote, “As a person who actually worked for tips & hourly wages in my life, instead of having to learn about it 2nd-hand, I can tell you that most people want to be paid enough to live. A living wage isn’t a gift, it’s a right. Workers are often paid far less than the value they create,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted—
VICKY WARD: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —in response to Ivanka’s comment. So—
VICKY WARD: Right, right, right. Well, I mean, how out of touch is she? But, I mean—but, you know, we see this. I mean, you know, what Jared and Ivanka, I think, don’t realize is that everyone else in the White House sort of views them as like Inspector Clouseau, like bumbling incompetence. And the only people who are aware that—you know, who don’t realize how incompetent they are, are themselves. I mean, they live in a reality distortion field.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can we switch gears completely and talk about what you understand happened with the firing of James Comey—
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and what Jared Kushner’s involvement was?
VICKY WARD: Yes. So this is really important. And I think, you know, one of the most important reveals, actually, in the book was that Jared Kushner—the story that Jared Kushner had met with the Russian ambassador and a Russian banker connected to the Kremlin during the transition started to come out in the early spring of 2017. And it was noticed and reported that Jared had not put any of these meetings, or any of the other meetings he had with any foreigners, for that matter, on his security clearance form. That is—that could well be—that’s a felony.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, you suggest, in fact, that it was Jared Kushner who was responsible for removing the White House logs—
VICKY WARD: Yes. So—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —so he could not—you know, so he would be protected from people knowing about all the people who were coming to see him at the White House.
VICKY WARD: Yeah. Well, that’s a slightly different thing. This, that is indeed true and also extraordinary. But the Comey thing is a little different. You know, Jared’s normal sort of way of operating with the president was to take him aside and talk quietly to him. But when it came—so, but once these reports were out that he hadn’t disclosed these meetings on his security clearance forms, and by this time the FBI had got—then run by James Comey—had opened its investigation into whether or not there was collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia, Jared, unusually, in front of everybody, in front of a large group—Bannon was there, but so were lots of others—made an impassioned plea to the president to fire James Comey. He gave a three-pronged argument. He said, you know, “The FBI doesn’t like him. The Democrats don’t like him. And your base will love it.” Steve Bannon, who is—you know, whatever we all think of his politics, he’s a wily strategist—thought this was a disastrous idea, and pushed back. But, obviously, you know, it was Jared who, I say in the book, was “gung-ho” about this. I mean, he was very atypically impassioned. Jared swayed the president. And hence you have Robert Mueller. I mean, James Comey goes, and, you know, hence we have everything—you know, the extraordinary events of this ongoing investigation, the special counsel.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about Ivanka Trump’s defense of her father after Charlottesville. We have this famous moment after the horror of Charlottesville and the killing of Heather Heyer, the Ku Klux Klan/neo-Nazi march, where President Trump says this.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either. And–and—
REPORTER 1: But only the Nazis—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And—and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
REPORTER 2: One side killed a person. Heather Heyer died—
REPORTER 1: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.
REPORTER 1: —to protest the removal of that statue.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They didn’t put themselves down as neo—and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park, from Robert E. Lee to another name.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump. “There were fine people on both sides.”
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain where Ivanka Trump then fits into this story.
VICKY WARD: So, I mean, to me, this is the heart of the book. It’s the sort of absolute tipping point, because I think it’s just the most shocking reveal of all. Gary Cohn, whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, an immigrant, came over here, Jewish—very, very upset by what the president had said.
AMY GOODMAN: His top economic adviser.
VICKY WARD: Yeah, sorry. Yes. And so upset that he decides he’s going to resign. He goes to New Jersey, where the president has a home. So do Jared and Ivanka. And he stops in to visit Jared and Ivanka and explain that he’s going to resign. And Ivanka—Jared, rather typically, says nothing. Ivanka, to his amazement, says, “no, no. You know, you don’t get it. My father is—you know, my father didn’t mean any of that.” But then she says, “No, my father didn’t say that.”
Gary Cohn had been part of the circle of advisers trying to manage Trump’s response to Charlottesville, and he knew that not only had Trump said it, that Trump had said it deliberately. He had gone against the advice of his advisers. He had picked out—pulled out a piece of paper. He said those words quite deliberately. He was horrified at what—at Ivanka’s response. And he never felt the same way about Jared and Ivanka again. He didn’t resign, but the reason he didn’t resign was he talked to Rob Porter, then the staff secretary, who he’s close to, and Porter said, “You know, we need you to try and get tax reform through Congress.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Vicky Ward, investigative journalist. Her new book, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. We were speaking to you about Ivanka Trump the last time you were on Democracy Now! You were investigating her business interests from China to India. What about Jared Kushner’s links to China? Can you explain them more fully, as you do in the book?
VICKY WARD: Yeah. So—
AMY GOODMAN: And especially talk about the holding company Anbang Insurance.
VICKY WARD: Yeah, I think this is one of the things that actually triggered me to start thinking about writing this book, is what happened, what we started to learn about Jared and the Chinese. You know, it was—so, no one knew this. None of his transition or White House colleagues knew anything about this. But Jared, the first weekend of the transition, and his father had a dinner with a major Chinese insurance firm, Anbang, that they were hoping would bail them out of the 666 Fifth Avenue, this disastrous money pit. But at the same—in the same time period in the transition, the Chinese government flew in, because they were so concerned about what the president said—had said about Taiwan. And Jared—
AMY GOODMAN: This is before he’s president.
VICKY WARD: Yes, this is the transition.
AMY GOODMAN: Just in the period—the transition period.
VICKY WARD: And Jared and a group of others meet with the Chinese government officials at the Kushner Companies headquarters. The whole thing is, you know, wildly, wildly inappropriate. But Jared doesn’t mention the fact that he’s got these ongoing talks with this Chinese insurance company, by the way, whose CEO has gone to jail for a life sentence. And on, I think it’s January 9th, The New York Times reports news of this dinner. And all of Jared’s colleagues—you know, Gary Cohn, Priebus—are just horrified. And Gary Cohn says to Jared, “You know, you realize, Jared, that from now on, whatever you do, everyone is just going to assume you’re here to enrich yourself.”
AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian negotiator, Erekat, what did he say about Jared Kushner, as he pushes a, quote, “Middle East peace plan”? Something around the issue of “he sounds like a real estate agent”?
VICKY WARD: A real estate, yes, exactly. He did. And, of course, Jared pushes back and says, “Well, maybe you need a real estate broker to solve Middle East peace.” I mean, it’s—you know, again, we come back to this idea, the sort of entitlement, the disdain of rules, rule of law, the sort of the personal agendas, self-interest, not the public interest. I mean, and—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You could say that’s something that’s true of a large number of people within the Trump administration. The distinction is that Trump and—that Jared and Ivanka Trump are relatives of Donald Trump. I mean, would you say that’s the main problem with them? Therefore they’re not in formal positions for which they could be faulted for the things that you’re pointing out, but rather they’re relatives who have access to Trump in a way that, first of all, gives them power, but without granting them some kind of formal authority.
VICKY WARD: Well, I think it’s more complicated than that. I think it’s to do with transparency. I think that the other members of the Cabinet and the administration are sort of held to a greater public scrutiny. I mean, you know, all these things, you know, that Jared has the power to close the logs and operate in darkness, the fact that he’s—the foreign policy is conducted in darkness, that it’s the—it’s that they’re kind of—they, unlike everyone else, are out of the system. And this is what Reince Priebus couldn’t manage. You know, everyone else, it’s sort of a bit more transparent, you know, their conversations with the president. I think the problem with these two is, we don’t—there’s so much that we don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: Even though they have official titles, as a senior advisers.
VICKY WARD: Right. And that’s not OK. I mean, look, if she was just the first daughter, not a problem. But she’s not. And that’s where there is a real problem. You know, you can’t go into government and run it like a family real estate business. But that is exactly what’s going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the family real estate business, what about the Trump International Hotel, down the street from the White House, and how it’s being run, who goes there, what they pay, and then what they’re getting in return?
VICKY WARD: Well, that’s an obvious example of exactly what we’re talking about, just an extraordinary conflict of interest, that’s in plain sight. I mean, famously, you know, anyone—all the foreign entities who are looking to curry favor all stay there. I mean, you know, and again, Ivanka and her—the Trump children each have a 7 percent share in that, which actually is surprisingly little, that Donald Trump didn’t give them more equity. I mean, that, I think, explains, to some degree, why Ivanka was so keen to hold onto her fashion line for so long, even though it was completely inappropriate that she do that, because Donald Trump gives his children surprisingly little. It’s an unusual arrangement for a New York real estate family business. They have surprisingly little equity in his assets.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what about the House Oversight Committee, Judiciary—
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —now that Democrats control the House? What is being—what do you think should be exposed about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump? What do you think they are most vulnerable on, as the—as, for example, House Judiciary has demanded—
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —documents from 81 businesses and people, but Ivanka Trump is not one of them?
VICKY WARD: No, but her businesses are—I mean, come up, and there are a lot of questions about her businesses, as there are about Jared and his businesses. You know, I hope that House Oversight asks more people. I mean, I think that it’d be—you know, I that talking to Jared’s brother—I mean, there are questions about conflicts of interest. You know, just a question. And, you know, it seems clear that Gary Cohn would be a useful person to interview, given that he had a prior knowledge of some of the Kushner brothers’ partnerships.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
VICKY WARD: Because Goldman Sachs, which is where Gary Cohn used to work, was an investor. So, I hope that—you know, I think that one way to look at it is that the investigations coming out of Congress now are going to give us a road map. They’re the sort of what. And I hope that my book is the why, if that makes sense.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you specifically about another issue, very important: BFPS.
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that is, how this ties into the whole debate around healthcare, Obamacare, around the Affordable Care Act.
VICKY WARD: Right. So, BFPS is on Jared Kushner’s White House disclosure forms. It stands for “brothers first, partners second.” The way he described it to someone he was trying to hire, three years ago, before he went into the government, was that it’s a profit-sharing vehicle with his brother Josh, whereby each brother splits 50 percent of each of their businesses with each other. Charles Kushner, I report in the book, liked this arrangement, because Charles Kushner had a famous disastrous feud with his own brother about money. So he thought it would be great if these two split their profits 50-50, avoid any fighting.
Now, Josh Kushner says that currently there is no profit-sharing arrangement between them—very precise use of the tense. But Gary Cohn knew that they still had—you know, that Jared still has a stake in a company called Cadre, that he founded with Josh Kushner, his brother, and he kept that stake when he went into the government. He didn’t disclose it on his financial forms. Instead, he rolled it up in BFPS.
AMY GOODMAN: Brothers first, partners second.
VICKY WARD: Yes. So, yes. So—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about Thrive. We’re talking about Cadre. We’re talking about Oscar insurance.
VICKY WARD: Oscar—well, so, it’s a little tricky. So, Oscar Health insurance is a business that Josh Kushner started. It’s a health insurance business that’s worth—or it was worth, at the time, at the beginning of the administration, $2.7 billion. And because Gary Cohn knew that there was this web of entanglement, or that certainly existed in the past, and he knew—he did know that Jared still had a stake in Cadre with his brother, he was very concerned when Jared kept bringing up his brother’s name during discussions of repeal-and-replace. And, you know, Jared—
AMY GOODMAN: Repealing Obamacare.
VICKY WARD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Jared—because Josh’s business, the success of it, is entirely predicated on Obamacare, it’d be disastrous if it had been repealed, for Oscar, this $2.7 billion business. So when Jared kept saying—you know, mentioning Josh, Gary Cohn was really, really uncomfortable. And then Joel Klein, who works for Josh, reached out to Gary Cohn with suggestions of how he thought healthcare should be shaped. And Gary Cohn says in the book that he was really uncomfortable about this. Now, Joel Klein says, “I was just doing—I was doing what anyone in my position would do.” You know, but given the background and given these business partnerships, I think Gary Cohn was really troubled. And rightly so.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you don’t name a lot of your sources.
VICKY WARD: No.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s one of the criticisms of the book—
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —is that it’s based on so many unnamed sources. Why?
VICKY WARD: Well, if you look at any book about a White House that’s written contemporaneously, they’re not on the record. I mean, even the great Bob Woodward is full of anonymous sources. And with this White House in particular, that is known to be so punitive, people are very frightened to go on the record. You know, Washington is an ecosystem. These people’s livelihoods depend on their relationship with the White House. So the only way you can get around—you know, you can really try and be as accurate as possible is to double- or triple-source everything. And, you know, so I made it a point of principle not to take one person’s word—you asked me earlier about Steve Bannon—absolutely never to take what somebody like he might have said, you know, as gospel, that it had to be run past other people who had direct knowledge of what happened in the room.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But there are a couple of moments where you say, “He thought to himself,” Bannon thought to himself. That can’t possibly be verified by anybody else.
VICKY WARD: Yeah, it’s a—so, that would have been checked. I mean, that’s not in there without, you know, yes, I would have known. I would have had access to what he thought in those instances, and he is aware of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll leave it there. At the end, an unnamed source says to you, “Wait until they’re out of power.”
VICKY WARD: Oh, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: “I’ll tell you the real story then.” Vicky Ward, investigative journalist. Her new book is titled Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.