November 16, 2016
In the Soprano State, aka New Jersey, the phrase "paybacks are..." may as well be the official state motto. Just look at Bridgegate and its messy aftermath.
But the vindictive knife fight-style of Jersey politics has apparently jumped the Hudson River to Trump Tower in Manhattan, where presidential transition planning is underway.
Here’s the opening of a New York Times piece Wednesday morning:
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world.
Trump denied the account, saying all was going "smoothly," but the Times account of the denial went on to list continuing transition issues.
The initial Times’ story goes on to name Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, a New Jersey native and Philadelphia real estate investor, as the hand behind the purge of transition team members linked to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump, Trump's daughter from his first marriage.
Jared Kushner, through the Kushner Company, owns The Schmidt's Commons (formerly The Piazza) and Liberties Walk in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. His father, disbarred lawyer and convicted felon Charles Kushner, is also a principal in the Kushner Company, which has vast real estate holdings in New Jersey and beyond.
The company is planning to develop Journal Square in Jersey City and also to redevelop a large commercial strip in Long Branch, New Jersey, where the company is in a dispute with merchants it is trying to remove despite long-term leases.
Jared Kushner is also the owner of The New York Observer, an online news, culture and opinion site best known for publishing Candace Bushnell’s column on Manhattan's social life that became the basis for the television series "Sex and the City." The publication began as a broadsheet, became a tabloid and settled into a digital-only presence. The Observer endorsed Trump during the primary season, but remained silent in the general election after criticisms about editorial meddling.
So here’s the bullseye amid the dots: the Kushners and Christie have history.
As the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie prosecuted and convicted the elder Kushner of making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. He went to prison and as a convicted felon was disbarred as a lawyer in several states.
Jared Kushner, himself a lawyer who was interning in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office at the time of his father’s sentencing, has said the case changed the direction of his career.
“My dad’s arrest made me realize I didn’t want to be a prosecutor anymore. The law is so nuanced. If you’re convicting murderers, it’s one thing. It’s often fairly clear. When you get into things like white-collar crime, there are often a lot of nuances," he told The Real Deal, a New York real estate publication.
“Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him. I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong. The moral weight of that was probably a bit more than I could carry.”
And that’s how he came instead to run his father’s real estate company.
Christie's past with Charles Kushner is the crux of the bad blood, according to an account Tuesday in the New York Times.
Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail.
Christie, a presidential aspirant, was until last week the leader of the presidential transition team, but recently was sidelined and replaced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The Times report continued:
Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.
At the time of the investigation, Charles Kushner was then-New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey’s top donor.
McGreevey resigned from office in the midst of the Kushner investigation after admitting to an adulterous affair with a man. That man, Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen, was hired by Kushner, who helped Cipel get work permits that allowed McGreevey to appoint him to a top counterterrorism post.
McGreevey had appointed Kushner to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and nominated him to become its chairman, but Kushner was forced to quit that powerful post because of the investigation.
The elder Kushner also was a top donor to other Democrats in New Jersey and New York, including Hillary Clinton’s 2000 race for the U.S. Senate.
Charles Kushner, known for his charitable giving – 700 letters of support were submitted at his hearing – as well as political fundraising, entered a plea in August 2004.
Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 counts on three charges – witness retaliation, tax evasion and violating election laws.
At the time, the judge said, "It is difficult for me to reconcile the generous man with the revengeful, hateful man. But I must take into consideration the vengeful nature in which this was done. In light of all the relevant circumstances, I find that you be imprisoned for 24 months."
Christie, who attended the sentencing for Kushner, talked to reporters afterwards:
"It shows that no matter how rich and powerful you are in this state you will be prosecuted and punished for crimes you commit. This sends a strong message that when you commit the vile and heinous acts that he has committed you will be caught and punished."
Kushner was released after 18 months.
The witnesses the elder Kushner targeted for blackmail and witness tampering were his brother-in-law, William Schulder, and his former chief bookkeeper, Robert Yontef.
The Post said the indictment from Christie’s office “reads like pulp fiction” and accused Kushner of paying a prostitute $7,000 to $10,000 to lure Schulder to a motel in Bridgewater, N.J.
The Post account continued:
The woman, described as a blonde bombshell who works for two elite escort services in Manhattan, claimed her car had broken down.
An X-rated encounter followed and Kushner had a tape of it mailed to his sister, Esther, in May – after some of his associates were notified they were targets of the federal probe.
But instead of zipping their lips, Schulder and his wife reported the deed to authorities.
Yontef, on the other hand, turned down the hooker’s advances.
A story by The Real Deal on Tuesday about the alleged "vendetta" Kushner has against Christie shaking up the transition had this quote near the end:
“My father made a mistake and he paid a big price for it, but he’s my father,” he previously told TRD. “He’s given me everything I have in terms of the skills and the training and taught me about being a man. I feel extremely lucky to have him in my life.”
The story's closing was: "But, in the case of Chris Christie, forgiveness may not come as easily."
On Wednesday, Trump denied accounts he was trying to get top security clearances for his children and for Kushner.
A source who has held top secret security clearance has told PhillyVoice that Kushner's relationship to a convicted felon might cause a concern about Jared Kushner's eligibility.
A spokesman for Kushner did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Christie declined comment.
To read the entire New York Times account, click here.