While the disjointed and contentious Trump transition has mostly focused on the atrocious potential picks for high level offices, one story nearly slipped under the radar: the targeted and dish-served-cold ruthlessness of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s termination as leader of the presidential transition.
While it’s easy to understand how it came about in hindsight, the sequence of events over the last decade laid out end-to-end read more like a suspense novel than real life.
In 2004 then US attorney of New Jersey Chris Christie prosecuted one of the largest cases of his career. He took down one of the wealthiest men in the nation as a part of a corruption scandal leading all the way up to the governor’s office. In a nutshell, he successfully prosecuted one Democratic New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey’s top donors – real estate mogul Charles Kushner.
Up to that point Kushner had been helping McGreevey keep his extramarital gay romance a secret even paying the governor’s ‘other’ man on his own payroll. Kushner’s arrest immediately preceded the dismantling of the McGreevey gubernatorial administration.
In Kushner’s case, his own family fought against him turning state’s evidence.
He was convicted of for filing false campaign-finance reports, retaliating against a federal witness, and filing false tax returns. The journey to that conviction is the real story though.
During the trial it came out that Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law.
He recorded that encounter and then mailed that tape to his sister as retaliation for agreeing to testify against him. Christie made sure the entire nation found this out during the trial in order to publicly embarrass Kushner.
Not long thereafter, Charles Kushner’s son Jared Kushner married Ivanka Trump. And then this week, Jared Kushner exacted his revenge against Christie for not only prosecuting but outright embarrassing his father over a decade ago.
He didn’t just fire Christie from the transition team on Friday without first having all the paperwork in order to keep the transition going; no, he performed what one Trump team member called a “bloodletting” of anyone even remotely connected to Christie on the transition team.
When Charles started his own real estate company, he chose his father, not Murray, as his partner. On the rare occasions that Josh and Jared have spoken about the subject in public, they have intimated that this decision exacerbated the tension between Charles and his siblings.
In an interview with New York in 2009, Jared suggested that his uncle and aunts owed their good fortune all but entirely to his father, by whom they had been “literally made wealthy for doing nothing.”
Before the scandal, Charles and his pretty dark-haired wife, Seryl, were seen as the standout ambassadors of their Orthodox community. Charles became known as the Dapper Don thanks to the natty tailoring he preferred and to his growing reputation as a New Jersey power broker.
As he built his real estate company into an empire worth a reported $2 billion, he contributed significantly to Jewish charitable causes as well as to political campaigns.
He supported New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani but tended to favor Democrats, including senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Charles Schumer, and Jon Corzine. In 2001, he was the largest donor to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Jim McGreevey, a New Jersey Democrat who later appointed him to the board of the influential Port Authority.
Jared attended the Orthodox Frisch School, in Paramus, New Jersey. By some accounts, he worked hard in school, but he was not especially academic.
In The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden notes that officials at Frisch were “dismayed” when Jared was accepted to Harvard, since, as one former school official put it, “his GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it.” Other students in Jared’s class, the official said, were far more deserving.
But Jared had a weapon that his classmates did not: his father. According to Golden, Charles donated $2.5 million to Harvard the year his son applied. Just to be safe, he also donated to Cornell and Princeton.
All this lobbying to establish his family in the upper echelons of power was expensive. The scandal that eventually sent Charles to prison began in 2001, when Murray discovered that his brother had used several of the family partnerships to make political contributions without informing his relatives. Murray sued Charles in court, and not long after Chris Christie became the U. S. Attorney for New Jersey, in 2002, he launched a criminal investigation.
As Christie’s case gained traction, Charles attempted to blackmail one of his sisters and her husband to keep them from cooperating as government witnesses. He paid a prostitute $10,000 to have sex with his brother-in-law, and then sent a videotape of the encounter to his sister.
The vindictive effort was for naught: In August 2004, in the face of overwhelming evidence that he had evaded taxes, made illegal campaign contributions, and retaliated against a federal witness, Charles pleaded guilty to eighteen felony counts.
The scandal made for a chilling affair, one that was severely at odds with the gracious public-service-oriented persona Charles had cultivated for public view.
The disgrace that followed, for Charles and for his family, was profound. “It was very embarrassing,” says Silow-Carroll. The community, he notes, has “a self-image, largely deserved, as philanthropists and Jewish communal lions. They felt that all this nasty stuff sullied that.”
During the case, Charles admitted to smearing his brother-in-law, who had cooperated with prosecutors, by hiring a prostitute to have sex with him in a motel room, then sending a secretly recorded video of the encounter to the man’s wife, Charles Kushner’s own sister.
Jared, who was 24 years old at the time and still in law school, took over his father’s business.
Kushner became a major player in real estate in his mid-20s, after his father’s conviction.
At 26, he orchestrated what was the most-expensive single-building purchase in US history in 2006 with the $1.8 billion acquisition of a 41-story skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Kushner told The Real Deal trade magazine afterward: ‘In New York, you have to act quickly, or else you get left in the dust.’
The slender, clean-cut real estate scion who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, helped guide the Republican Trump to victory last week over Democrat Hillary Clinton and is poised to remain an influential adviser during his presidency.
He emerged as an important voice early in Trump’s campaign, launched in June 2015.
He was involved in almost every aspect of Trump’s campaign, offering advice on key personnel decisions, strategy, speeches, fundraising and other areas.
Late in the campaign, he began laying the groundwork for a possible Trump-run television network, in the event his father-in-law lost, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Kushner spearheads his family’s real estate development company, Kushner Companies, and is the publisher of the New York Observer weekly newspaper, which he acquired at age 25.
While a federal anti-nepotism law prohibits a president from hiring family members to serve in his administration, Kushner is set to remain a key insider and trusted confidant.
Multiple sources told the network that Kushner has been rubbing allies the wrong way in his recent efforts to purge the transition team of Gov Chris Christie associates.
In an unusual twist, the man who prosecuted Charles was Christie, who also has served as an adviser to Trump.
However, one of Christie’s associates, told CNN that there was no ‘purge’ of Christie’s staff and that such a characterization is ‘overblown’.
Some of Christie’s staff have left, but others have stayed on the team.
The associate told the network that it makes sense that Vice President-elect Mike Pence would want some of his own people involved now that he is running the effort.
Reince Priebus, appointed Trump’s White House chief of staff on Sunday, told NBC’s ‘Today’ show on Monday that Kushner ‘obviously’ will be very involved in decision-making. Kushner serves on Trump’s transition executive committee.
Kushner is a Harvard graduate with a New York University law degree and a master’s in business administration. Like Trump, Kushner followed in the footsteps of a real estate powerhouse father.