Inside Jared Kushner’s circle of trust

In his former life as a Manhattan real estate developer and newspaper owner, Jared Kushner often lunched with Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist and Democratic fundraiser with a decades-long allegiance to the Clintons.

Patricof, 81, fit the profile of a typical Kushner friend – a wealthy patrician New Yorker old enough to be his father, whom Kushner sought out for advice (see: Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein and Ron Perelman).

In the early days of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, Patricof said he wondered about his young friend. “I thought, God, I wouldn’t want to be Jared Kushner having to defend this guy,” he said. “I was saying, ‘If I were him, I would slink away.’ I think his natural instincts are not as a Trump supporter. But the opposite has happened.”

Kushner, in the words of one person who knows him, is a longtime “collector of people.” In interviews, half a dozen people who have worked and socialized with him described how he likes to crowdsource on issues new to him, often cold-calling people he is impressed by and making his own introduction. In his first six months in Washington, he’s developed a new circle of advisers — one that’s more political — while leaving some of his earlier confidants behind.

He’s discreet about who he calls upon for outside advice in his White House role. But some of the new additions to his cadre are people like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s former campaign manager, Jeff Roe, whose data-driven primary campaign caught his attention.

The shift from his old life in New York to his current political reality is one Kushner wasn’t necessarily prepared for when he moved his family to Washington to join his father-in-law’s administration. “This is not what he expected,” said one associate who speaks with him regularly. Most surprising to the new-to-politics senior adviser, according to multiple people with ties to Kushner, is the snakepit environment of the West Wing, and the backbiting from rival colleagues.

That dynamic is part of what has left Kushner most dependent on his trusted team of loyalists at the White House – including political director Bill Stepien, deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, assistant to the President Reed Cordish, Director of Strategic Initiatives Chris Liddell and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn – and on his new collection of outside advisers.

Old friends in Manhattan have called to express support for Kushner in the ongoing Russia investigation. But they have also politely begged off invitations to visit the White House – not so much because they’re scared of an ongoing association with Kushner, but because they don’t want to get roped into impromptu photo-ops with Trump.

Patricof said he hasn’t spoken to Kushner since the election. “I do media investments – he showed me an investment, I showed him an investment,” Patricof said of his bygone big city lunches with the ambitious young mogul-on-the-make.

He’s not the only one who has drifted away.

Klein keeps his distance from the president’s son-in-law since signing on to work as a top executive at Oscar, the health insurance start-up founded by Kushner’s younger brother, Josh. It has become too complicated to mix business with friendship while the Trump administration has been trying to repeal Obamacare, sources close to Klein said.

One constant between the new life and the old: Kushner’s father, Charlie. While the two former business partners no longer talk real estate shop, they are still in daily contact.

Here is a look at Kushner’s current circle of trust:

THE PATRIARCH
Charlie Kushner
In his old life, Jared Kushner didn’t order new furniture for the office of his newspaper, the New York Observer, without consulting first with his parents. According to former employees, staffers were sometimes asked to clean up their desks before an office visit from the Kushner parents, Charlie and Seryl. The patriarch of the New Jersey real estate family – a former top Democratic donor who served two years in federal prison for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations – Charlie Kushner has always kept his close-knit family running by his rules, even when he and his son worked as full business partners at Kushner Companies.

These days, Charlie Kushner keeps a low profile in his son’s high-profile life. He did not attend Trump’s victory party in New York City on election night, and he has not visited the White House since a brief stop-in after Trump’s inauguration, according to a White House official. But behind the scenes, he remains deeply involved in his son’s life, according to people close to the Kushners. The two still speak daily, these people said, although they no longer discuss the family business.

“He’s immensely proud and he’s terribly worried,” one of these people said of Charlie Kushner’s feelings about his son working for the president. Kushner pére has been actively supportive of his son’s decision to expand his legal defense team with the addition of Abbe Lowell, according to two sources familiar with his thinking. And has had multiple meetings with Jamie Gorelick, who has worked with both Kushners while Jared has divested sizeable assets from the family firm.

Charlie Kushner might be keeping the Trump administration at arm’s length, but he has some old pals working in government under his son, whom he also stays in touch with. One example: Ira Greenstein, a former Newark-based executive and longtime Kushner family friend, who quit his job as chairman of IDT Corporation and now works out of the Old Executive Office Building on Kushner’s team as a lawyer working primarily under Liddell and Cordish.

THE BASE CONNECTOR
Jeff Roe
The former Ted Cruz campaign manager first connected with Kushner in August of 2016, a few months after the Texas Senator conceded to Trump. Roe was drinking a Corona in Tahoe when Kushner called him from a vacation in Switzerland, in part to say how impressed he was with the data-driven primary operation he ran against Trump. Since then, the two speak regularly, and Kushner often seeks out Roe, an expert on data analytics with valuable focus group information collected across the country, for political advice and help understanding how initiatives are playing with the Trump base.

“He’ll ask all the time, ‘what could we be doing better,’” said Roe. “Every time we talk, he asks that question. He is always asking, ‘what am I not seeing.’ If I offer a compliment he rejects it and tells me he wants to hear the bad news.”

THE WASHINGTON INSIDER
Newt Gingrich
Kushner and the former House Speaker first connected during the campaign, when the son-in-law started taking over as de facto campaign manager and sought him out for simple advice on how to run a functional operation – asking him for help on basics like how to devise a schedule that would achieve their goals and not run the candidate into the ground.

Now they speak regularly about communications strategy and veterans affairs, Gingrich said. “We’re thinking through having an entire week on veterans issues,” Gingrich said in an interview. “Jared likes the idea very much.” Overall, of Kushner’s amorphous job in the White House, Gingrich said: “He’s trying to organize solutions. He thinks politics is next year.”

THE OLD STEADY
Ken Kurson
The New Jersey Jewish political operative and former editor of the New York Observer is like comfort food for Kushner – a familiar voice and face in a brand-new world. Kushner relied on Kurson – who previously worked with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – for speechwriting during the campaign. He still talks to Kurson, who now works for Teneo Strategies in Manhattan, almost every day, usually for a gut-check on how the administration is being covered. Kushner, people familiar with his thinking said, valued how the New York Observer covered the 2016 presidential race, as a “balanced media operation.”

The newspaper, however, was widely criticized for its favorable coverage of Trump, with one reporter even resigning because of what he said was the paper’s biased political coverage. But Kushner still trusts Kurson’s political instincts. He will call Kurson if he sees cable news raising what he calls a “three-alarm fire” about something the president has done, mostly to be reminded that most of America isn’t buying the hype.

THE DEMOCRATIC LAWYER
Jamie Gorelick
It was Klein, a mutual friend, who first asked Gorelick, a former deputy Attorney General under President Bill Clinton, to consider representing Jared Kushner as he tried to untangle himself from nepotism and conflict-of-interest concerns as he left his business to join the White House. Those issues are ongoing: Gorelick is in contact with Kushner’s team at the White House multiple times a week to discuss business issues.

The latest: Kushner’s acceptance of a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank a month before Election Day, which the Washington Post reported last week. But her role has also expanded to include the ongoing Russia probes, as Kushner prepares to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his dealing with Russian operatives during the campaign and has kept her on his legal defense team.

“I don’t have much insight as to what he is doing inside on a daily basis,” Gorelick told POLITICO in an interview in March. “But he does seem like a good person.”

THE SENATOR
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
Corker and Kushner first connected during the 2016 campaign when the Tennessee Republican was briefly considered as Trump’s running mate. Before meeting one-on-one with Trump, Corker spent 30 minutes with Kushner, 30 minutes with Ivanka Trump and 30 minutes with Eric Trump, according to a person familiar with the process. Corker then spent an entire day with Kushner and Trump on the campaign plane, where he almost immediately took himself out of the running. But he found himself talking extensively to Kushner again when his name surfaced as a potential candidate for secretary of state, and then consulted the son-in-law regularly on personnel choices and foreign policy.

People close to Corker describe the relationship as “episodic” and “all business.” They don’t call each other’s cell phones just to catch up, and can go for weeks without contact, but then will work together closely on an issue, like planning Trump’s first foreign trip.

The tight relationship has recently benefited Kushner. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told Meet the Press in May that there is no rush in when the president’s son-in-law comes forward to answer questions about reports that he tried to set up a backchannel with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign. “He seems to me to be a very open person and again, I’d let him speak for himself when the time is right on all these issues and at that time we can actually render judgement on the reality of what did or didn’t take place,” Corker said. The comment, sources said, was noticed and appreciated by Kushner.

Kushner has kept his distance from the healthcare bill – he went skiing in Aspen with his family while the first bill failed in the House – and can come across as dismissive to members of Congress. But he still has other connections on the Hill. In addition to Corker, he speaks with some regularity to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC..). He also considers Utah Sen. Mike Lee something of a new friend.

THE BILLIONAIRE
Steve Schwarzman
Kushner knew Schwarzman casually before entering the White House, but he’s become much closer with the billionaire CEO of the Blackstone Group, who was tapped early on to head Trump’s economic advisory council.
Kushner and Ivanka Trump attended Schwarzman’s black tie 70th birthday party in Palm Beach earlier this year, where Ivanka Trump was seated next to the birthday boy at the 400-person soiree.

THE MEDIA MOGUL
Rupert Murdoch
A longtime friend of Javanka’s, Rupert Murdoch was someone Kushner began cultivating as a mentor when he first entered the media world as a newspaper owner in 2006. His ex-wife, Wendi Deng, remains one of Ivanka Trump’s closest friends.

During the campaign, Kushner was said to be the main connection between Trump and the News Corp chairman, pushing a skeptical Murdoch, who strongly disagreed with Trump’s immigration policies, to support his father-in-law. Murdoch and Trump now have their own relationship. Murdoch introduced Trump at a dinner last May in New York City as “my friend, Donald J. Trump.” But he remains closest with Kushner, who views him as a modern-day intellectual and invaluable personal resource.

THE AMBASSADORS
Israel ambassador Ron Dermer
United Arab Emirates ambassador Yousef Otaiba
As he searches for solutions to Middle East peace, Kushner has developed the strongest personal relationships with the Israeli ambassador and the United Arab Emirates ambassador.

Kushner was Dermer’s main point of contact with the Trump campaign last year. And he was introduced to Otaiba by billionaire real estate investor Tom Barrack, one of Trump’s closest friends. Kushner uses Otaiba, a slick, savvy Washington operator, as a resource, peppering him with questions about the entire region. They are still in touch about once a week. Ahead of Trump’s foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, for instance, Kushner consulted with Otaiba about the purpose and the objective of the trip.

“We talk big picture,” Otaiba said. “He continues to be someone I engage with on a regular basis on the broader issues facing the Middle East.”

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