Andrea Bernstein is a senior editor at WNYC and co-host of the “Trump, Inc.” podcast. A Peabody and duPont-Columbia award-winning journalist, Bernstein’s new work is an exposé on two families at the pinnacle of American power. American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power, is Bernstein’s investigative journey into two emblematic American families—the Kushners and the Trumps.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump enjoy limitless access to the Oval Office, but beyond their marriage, little about the families’ relationship is public knowledge. Throughout American Oligarchs, Bernstein reveals their campaign into the White House by tracing history stretching from the Gilded Age to WWII to the 21st century. Bernstein draws on private interviews, never-before-seen documents and forgotten files in order to expose the families’ accumulated wealth through real estate, manipulation and crime.
Bernstein’s American Oligarchs is a serious examination of the half-truths, secrecy and media manipulation weaponized by the Trumps and the Kushners. Join us as she discusses the Trumps, Kushners, and the marriage of money and power.
Christie has maintained a cordial and clear-eyed relationship with the president. Though he carries some political baggage from his time as governor, he had credentials that few of the others considered for the chief of staff position could offer — skills that Trump likely will need in the year ahead. Among them were
- executive experience,
- political experience,
- communications skills,
- independent political relationships and, above all,
- legal experience as a former U.S. attorney.
.. Christie apparently concluded this was no time to go inside the Trump administration and to work for a president who rarely takes the advice of his advisers and whose volatility and unpredictability could prove to be even more detrimental in the months ahead.
.. The decisions by Ayers, Christie and others underscore the precariousness of Trump’s position. At a time when he will need all the strength, wisdom, firepower and support directly around him, Trump presides over a White House that is thinning out rather than beefing up.
.. The White House Counsel’s Office is understaffed heading into a year that could bring multiple requests for documents from congressional committees and the possibility of impeachment proceedings, if what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ultimately reports rises to that level. So far that is an open question. Others already have moved out of the White House to jobs on the Trump 2020 campaign or the private sector. More could follow in the months ahead.
.. Some loyalists remain. Among them are
- Kellyanne Conway,
- Sarah Sanders, and the president’s daughter
- Ivanka Trump and son-in-law
- Jared Kushner.
But on the issue of fresh recruits, the question is: Who would want to come to work for a president at this moment, knowing that could result in sizable legal fees as a side benefit?
.. For Trump, a group of people he once counted as among his most trusted advisers has been turned into a weapon in the hands of prosecutors
.. Another person who once protected the president and is now on the other side is David Pecker, of American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer
.. Equally worrisome for Trump could be the role of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and the person who must know as much as anyone about the inner financial workings of Trump’s empire. He has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation.
- They disappointed climate change activists who thought they would keep President Trump from leaving the landmark Paris accord.
- They enraged Democrats and even some Republicans by not pushing back against his immigration policies, and
- alienated business allies by their silence over threats to Nafta. They regularly faced news stories about their unpopularity.
Even their relationship with the president seemed to suffer.
Several times Mr. Trump joked that he “could have had Tom Brady” as a son-in-law. “Instead,” the president said, according to five people who heard him, “I got Jared Kushner.”
.. It did not help that the president had gone from telling aides to “talk to Jared,” as he did during the campaign, to telling them that “Jared hasn’t been so good for me.”
.. At various points, Mr. Trump told friends and his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, that he wished both Jared and Ivanka would return to New York.
.. It was only in May that Mr. Kushner had his security clearance restored
.. “I think they felt in some ways when things escalated that they thought it was best to keep a lower profile and hone in on their specific policy areas,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders
.. once said that she did not intend to stay in the capital long enough to become one of its “political creatures” — people she feels are “so principled that they get nothing done,”
.. home is now in Washington, where their children attend Jewish schools and their house is routinely watched by papraazzi as they depart for work or go for a run.
.. As for separating immigrant families, she added, “How do they sleep at night?”
.. In response to critics like Ms. Rosen, the couple have argued that they can temper Mr. Trump only if he is willing to listen.
.. Mr. Kushner has convinced the president that criminal justice reform is worthwhile, even as his attorney general remains a vocal opponent.
.. Mr. Kushner has shown an adeptness at using the president’s impulses to steer him toward his own priorities. When Mr. Kushner ushered Kim Kardashian West into the Oval Office to speak about commuting the life sentence of an African-American woman named Alice Marie Johnson, Mr. Trump ignored the concerns of his advisers and freed Ms. Johnson, dazzled by his power to grant clemency and Ms. Kardashian’s celebrity.
.. Her supporters argue that she is in an untenable situation if she speaks out in public. Her father said she had addressed the issue with him privately, further inflaming her critics.
.. Mr. Kushner appears to see himself as the custodian of Mr. Trump’s political brand, offering his father-in-law “options,” and has spoken about clearing out the Republican Party of lingering resistance. He has privately said that he has been taking action against “incompetence” and that any tensions are a result of fighting for his father-in-law’s best interests.
.. His detractors say the friction stems from Mr. Kushner’s meddling in things for which he is out of his depth, like when the president, following his own preference, huddled with Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump instead of his top policy advisers before his meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
.. Ms. Richards wrote in a memoir that they had offered her a deal that felt like a “bribe” — continued federal funding for the group in return for a halt to providing abortions.
.. Inside the White House, the couple’s influence is most felt in internal battles, particularly with aides they do not regard as loyal to their mission — or Mr. Trump’s.
.. That is particularly true of Mr. Kushner, who, critics say, shares his father-in-law’s desire for control. Over the course of Mr. Trump’s campaign and presidency, Mr. Kushner has been seen as trying to undercut or as being at odds with a long list of aides — some who remain, many who have left.
The list includes:
- Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski;
- his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his associates;
- his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon;
- Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel;
- the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway;
- the first head of the presidential transition, Chris Christie;
- the former secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson;
- Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and
- his longtime lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz.
Their privileged permanence as family members has allowed them to outlast other aides in an environment where expectations have been shifted and, at times, lowered on their behalf.
.. Both husband and wife, like Mr. Trump, are said to hang on to grudges, but Mr. Kushner is far more transactional than his wife. Like his father-in-law, he appears to convince himself that fights did not happen if someone has become useful to him.
.. A persistent obstacle to both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump is Mr. Kelly, whose approach to security clearances they feel unfairly targeted them, and who, they have confided to associates, they believe has spread negative information about them.
.. Though they have insisted that they are not trying to play a role in a succession plan for Mr. Kelly, few West Wing staff members believe that.
.. Both Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are widely believed to support Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, as Mr. Kelly’s successor.
Whoever the replacement is would join a new set of aides who — many with the couple’s support — have replaced the familiar faces from the 2016 campaign.
- Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive, was preparing to join the White House, Mr. Kushner, with Ms. Trump’s support, gave him their stamp of approval. It was Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump who wanted
- Mercedes Schlapp, a well-connected Republican consultant, brought into the administration. Mr. Kushner’s ally
- Brad Parscale became the 2020 campaign manager, a move Mr. Kushner told the West Wing staff about on the morning it was publicly announced.
And they regard Stephen Miller, a supporter of some of Mr. Trump’s harshest stands on immigration, as a walking policy encyclopedia.
.. In June, when the United States won its joint bid with Canada and Mexico to host the World Cup in 2026, Mr. Kushner’s team made sure to tell reporters that it happened in part because of the efforts of the president’s son-in-law, who reportedly used some of his international contacts to win enough votes to seal the bid.
.. Ms. Collins found in Ms. Trump what many Republicans most desire: a direct line to a president sometimes at odds with his own party.
.. Ms. Trump has delivered one of the few things she can uniquely accomplish in Washington: Riding in a car together one day, she handed Ms. Collins a phone. The president was on the line.
Michael Cohen has profited from it, but we’re all Trumpologists now.
Christie argued that pesky journalists and amateur Trump watchers were always getting the President wrong, making it out as if there were some “Machiavellian” grand plan by Trump that could explain many otherwise seemingly unexplainable moves. “There is no strategy,” he exclaimed.
.. Several mentioned White House aides or outside advisers, such as Christie, who seem to have the ability to read Trump’s quirks and offer reliable guidance about what a President who delights in the appearance of unpredictability will actually do. One White House reporter, for example, said that Stephen Miller, the combative young aide who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has helped shape his hard-line immigration policy, was “an authentic reflection of his boss,” citing him as a helpful resource “if you’re looking to decode what Trump is really thinking.” Others mentioned informal advisers including Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax and another regular Trump phone buddy; journalists such as the Times’ Maggie Haberman and the Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti
.. “The truth is, virtually everyone who claims to know what Trump is going to do has been wrong at some point,” one sharp analyst told me. “The best indicator, in my mind, is to go back and read his core campaign pledges and speeches. Those have been far more instructive than anyone in Congress, in the Republican Party, or on his own team.”
.. “All the same traits repeat themselves now,” the correspondent wrote to me. “The grandiosity, the impatience and impulsiveness, the repeated lies.
.. At the time, other observers, less schooled in Trump, wrongly thought that the heavy responsibilities of a job for which he was ill-prepared might change him. Not the Trumpologists. “He’s the same old Trump,
.. What did it mean that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of Germany’s pro-Russia oppositionists at a time of such tensions with the West, was right there in the front row? That Putin only shook hands with three people—Schroeder, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and a splendidly attired Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill
.. Indeed, the Putin inauguration scene made the former Moscow correspondent in me realize just how much Washington these days feels like Russia.
.. Of course, there’s always an element of Kremlinology in how we cover the White House.
.. But, at least in Administrations of old, there was a process to pay attention to, meetings where actual decisions were made, policy rollouts planned in advance as a result of those decisions. “Process protects you” was a favorite line of Obama’s process-obsessed second-term chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and most of his predecessors, from Republican and Democratic Administrations alike, agreed.
.. Many of this President’s major decisions—from appointing Cabinet secretaries to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal—are completely opaque and, in many cases, shockingly process-free.
We can scoff and sneer at those images of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on his beachfront imperium, or we can learn from them. As he took in the sun, he doled out a lesson, the same one that Donald Trump is delivering on a daily basis and in a grander fashion:
Beware the politician who doesn’t give a damn for decorum. What he markets as irreverence can be something coarser and more perverse.
.. Christie was “Trump before Trump,” Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa in an articlepublished late Monday. “He does what he wants to do, and his success can be traced to that. But there are consequences, of course, when you work that way.”
.. The twins of tantrum, Christie and Trump had almost identical political appeals. They mocked propriety. They broke rules. They assertively peddled the impression that as happy as they were to make friends, they were even happier to make enemies, because that meant that they were fully in the fight.
.. In an era of resentment and anger, many voters thrilled to the spectacle. The problem with other politicians, these voters legitimately reasoned, was too much indulgence of vested interests and too cowardly an obeisance to convention.
Mr. Christie has been adamant that he had a right to the use the beach house at Island Beach State Park — it is an official governor’s residence — and that he was not going to cancel weeks of planning because of the shutdown.
.. When a reporter asked about his use of the home, Mr. Christie said: “That’s just the way it goes. Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”
.. In 2011, photographs published by The Star-Ledger caught him using a state helicopter paid for by taxpayers to attend his son’s baseball game. Television cameras caught him in awkward celebrations in 2015 with Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys — a hated rival in New Jersey
.. At the height of Mr. Christie’s popularity, when he was celebrated at home and nationally as one of the Republican Party’s brightest stars, Mr. Christie easily shrugged off seemingly damaging episodes, rarely giving any credence to concerns about political optics. Armed with a quick, sharp tongue and a brash sense of humor, his “sit down and shut up” tongue lashings were often praised as authentic and tough.
.. his continued reliance on biting defensive humor is less endearing and more enraging.
.. “His rise to national prominence was that he had this reputation as a fighter, and that when he was fighting, he was on the side of the Everyman and the New Jersey taxpayer against the status quo,”
.. Hours after Mr. Christie was spotted on the sand, Claude Brodesser, a reporter for The Star-Ledger, asked the governor if he had gotten any sun.
Mr. Christie curtly responded that he had not and hurled an unrelated insult at Mr. Brodesser.
.. he spotted the governor’s helicopter idling next to a plane — mounting evidence that Mr. Christie was by the ocean.
.. Some questioned why Mr. Christie had a taxpayer-funded beach house in the first place.
.. On Saturday morning, while confused residents were being turned away from Island Beach State Park’s entrance, one local fisherman spotted the governor’s daughter driving past the barricade.
.. Perhaps sensing the level of fury, Mr. Christie’s office carried out a public-relations blitz on Monday, using his official Twitter account to point to the many open municipal beaches.
“NJ beaches are open in 119 of our 130 miles of coastline.