By Michael Kranish,
NEW YORK — Charles Kushner walked recently into his corner office on Fifth Avenue, his window framing a view of nearby Trump Tower. On the wall was a magazine cover of his son, Jared Kushner, headlined, “This Guy Got Trump Elected,” along with a photo of daughter-in-law Ivanka Trump.
The office scene seemed serene, but the spotlight sometimes has been harsh in the year since the younger Kushner left the family business to become President Trump’s senior adviser. Investigations have been launched into the family business, and the younger Kushner at one point testified before Congress that he never discussed his company’s search for financing while meeting with a Russian banker during the transition.
Charles Kushner, who founded Kushner Companies and now works without a title, talks with his son every day. But until now he has remained publicly silent as questions were raised about Jared and whether the company, a property development business, benefited from his powerful job. One reason for that silence may have stemmed from the 63-year-old Kushner’s background. He was convicted in 2005 of several federal crimes and spent 14 months in an Alabama federal prison, where his son visited him almost every weekend. The younger Kushner declared that the charges were unfair, and spoke up on his father’s behalf.
Now it is the father speaking up on behalf of his 37-year-old son. In his first interview since his son entered the White House, Charles Kushner said the company has no concerns about the investigations and dismissed suggestions that his son’s work with Trump has made it harder to obtain financing for the family’s many real estate projects.
The company acknowledged last year that the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn has subpoenaed information regarding Kushner projects that used a program in which foreigners can invest $500,000 in exchange for fast-track status for U.S. residency and possible citizenship. And the company confirmed to The Post in December that it has voluntarily turned over documents regarding a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank that Jared Kushner obtained for the firm one month before Election Day. But in both cases, Charles Kushner said, he is confident no charges will result.
“All I know is that we are not at all concerned, and we are cooperating,” Kushner said in a half-hour interview at his headquarters at 666 Fifth Avenue. “And they can knock themselves out for the next 10 years reading those papers as far as I’m concerned.”
Kushner said he has been given no indication that the firm is being investigated by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign. Congressional officials have raised questions about whether the Kushners sought financing from Russian sources to redevelop the 41-story Fifth Avenue tower. The building’s fate has long been in doubt in the face of a $1.2 billion loan that Jared Kushner arranged and comes due in a year.
“No. Nothing, not heard. If you want to know the truth, no one has contacted us” from Meuller’s office, Charles Kushner said. Mueller’s office declined to comment.
Still, the criticism of his son, and the questions about whether Jared Kushner left behind a troubled company, have been searing.
“I try not to focus in my life on the haters but it’s just, I have never seen anything like this,” Kushner said.
A spokesman said Jared Kushner follows an ethics agreement in which he agrees not to discuss the company business with his family or anyone else.
Jared Kushner took over the company when he was 25 years old. The sudden ascension became necessary after his father, a major Democratic Party donor, was convicted in 2005 on federal charges of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations, including some in Jared’s name. Charles Kushner allegedly arranged the videotaping of his brother-in-law meeting with a prostitute, part of a scheme to prevent relatives from cooperating with a federal investigation.
The prosecutor was then-U. S. Attorney Chris Christie, who said Charles Kushner had failed to acknowledge “vile and heinous acts.” Jared Kushner, however, sought to justify the action by telling New York magazine that his father had arranged for the tape as a warning to family members.
“His siblings stole every piece of paper from his office, and they took it to the government,” Jared Kushner told the magazine. “Siblings that he literally made wealthy for doing nothing. He gave them interests in the business for nothing. All he did was put the tape together and send it. Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.’ ”
The younger Kushner, who said in the New York magazine interview that “I speak with my father about everything in my life,” never forgot the way Christie prosecuted his father. He helped prevent Christie from getting a major post in the Trump administration, according to a White House official.
As some of Charles Kushner’s associates kept their distance, he relied on his son even more. Jared Kushner changed the company’s course almost immediately after taking over. Charles Kushner had run the business from New Jersey, where the company owned thousands of apartments. The younger Kushner gambled by selling off many of the apartments to buy 666 Fifth Avenue tower, and moved the company headquarters to the site, one of the most prized in Manhattan.
The timing was terrible. Jared Kushner’s $1.8 billion purchase was the highest price at the time for an office building in the United States. A real estate meltdown sent prices tumbling, and the younger Kushner made several deals to save the building, culminating with the $1.2 billion loan that is due next January.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign — for which Jared had much responsibility — Jared and Charles Kushner tried to find a lender that would provide billions of dollars for an ambitious plan to double the size of the 41-story tower. One of Trump’s closest friends, Tom Barrack, had suggested that a fund overseen by the former foreign minister of Qatar invest in the building. Separately, the Kushners pursued funding from Anbang, an insurance company tied to the Chinese government.
But as word spread that Jared Kushner would become Trump’s senior adviser, the Chinese and Qatari efforts fell through.
Barrack told The Post last year that Kushner’s move to the White House “just about completely chilled the market, and [potential investors] just said, ‘No way — can’t be associated with any appearances of conflict of interest,’ even though there was none.” Barrack said redeveloping 666 Fifth Avenue was Charles Kushner’s “dream and his baby. When Jared decided to go to Washington, he probably had a heart attack.”
Charles Kushner declined to speak on the record about Barrack’s assessment, but the company has said it drove the decision by choosing not to do business with sovereign investment funds, or a fund run by a former government official such the Qatari one, to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest with Jared Kushner’s White House role.
Congressional officials, meanwhile, have asked whether Jared Kushner had sought Russian financing for the project. Kushner met in December 2016 with a Russian bank executive, Sergey Gorkov. The bank has said that it met with Kushner to discuss “promising business lines and sectors.” But Jared Kushner testified before Congress in July that the meeting did not involve “any discussion” about the family company, “real estate projects” or “loans.”
All of that has left Charles Kushner, and company president Laurent Morali, to figure out how to turn 666 Fifth Avenue into a profitable enterprise. The company co-owns the office portion of the building with Vornado Realty Trust, which is run by Trump’s longtime friend and business partner, Steven Roth, who said in October that the redevelopment plan probably was “not feasible.”
Charles Kushner declined to comment about the company’s plans for the building. The firm has previously said it would make a decision early this year. As for the company’s fortunes, the firm said on its website that it had a record year in 2017 of $2.5 billion worth of transactions. That was made possible notwithstanding the fact that it has refused to take funding available to many of its competitors, such as from sovereign funds and the EB-5 visa program.
While Charles Kushner helps steer the company, Jared Kushner is deeply influenced by his father as he tackles one of the primary tasks given him by Trump: developing a Middle East peace plan. The elder Kushner has long been friends with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once slept in Jared Kushner’s bedroom at the family’s New Jersey home, while Jared moved to the basement.
Trump has said that if Kushner “can’t produce peace in the Middle East, no one can.” But so far, there is no peace deal, and prospects have diminished since Trump declared that the United States will move its embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said Sunday that the Trump plan, developed partly by Kushner, was “the slap-in-the-face of the century” and that it had undermined efforts to bring peace to the region.
Jared Kushner came to the task with no diplomatic experience. But Charles Kushner said he is confident in his son’s capabilities.
“I could not be prouder of the things he is doing and the sacrifice he has made to try to do some good things for the people who live in our country and maybe some good things for people who live in the world,” Charles Kushner said. “I see my son taking up the Middle East, the impact on the world could be dramatic.”
Asked how his son is qualified to take on so many responsibilities in the White House, Kushner responded that he gave all of his children a “lot of responsibility at young ages.”
“We didn’t raise our children as typical children. They were taught if you have wealth, it is not something to be spoiled about, it is a lot of responsibility, which requires you to do more, better than if you didn’t have the money. So my children, they are more mature than their years and they were raised that way.”
Ken Kurson, a close family friend, said “Jared is a dutiful son and the relationship is mutually respectful, but Jared is his own man and realizes that he is in Washington for one reason — to advance the interests of the American people by serving the president.”
Another example of Charles Kushner’s influence is Jared Kushner’s work on a judicial reform plan, an effort that is affected by what he learned from his father’s imprisonment. After the elder Kushner served 14 months in the Alabama prison, he spent the remainder of his two-year sentence in a halfway house in Newark. Kushner later hired two men who had been inmates with him at the Alabama prison to work for the company, according to a Bloomberg report.
“I’m passionate about judicial reform as I have seen firsthand the injustice of long sentences and the destruction of human lives who have no hope,” Charles Kushner said. “I believe in second chances, when appropriate, as we are all human and we all make mistakes.” He said the issue is “close and personal to Jared and close and personal to our family because we have seen it from both sides.”
As Kushner finished the interview, he stood up from the couch, where he had been seated beside his wife of 43 years, Seryl, and walked to a picture of his parents, Joseph and Rae Kushner, who were Holocaust survivors and emigrated to the United States in 1949. Charles Kushner said his parents had little when they arrived in the United States, and said he has told his son to remember their story. Meanwhile, Trump has pushed strict immigration policies.
“When Jared was sworn in, the day after he went to the White House, I gave him a copy of this picture, framed,” Kushner said, “I said, ‘Jared, no matter what happens, I’m going to ask you one thing: Keep this picture in your office, and remember where you come from, who you are, and it will always help you know to make the right decisions.’ These are people with no education, no money, lived through Hitler. Now their grandson is in the White House.”