The 34-year-old daughter of Ivana and Donald Trump is one of the Trump campaign’s most important centers of power. Ivanka was reportedly the driving force behind the removal of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last month. Ivanka was said to be “very impressive” during her individual meetings with senators after Donald Trump’s awkward and occasionally hostile sit-down with congressional Republicans on July 7, a meeting that reportedly included a “tense exchange” between Trump and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. As the New York Times reported in April, Ivanka holds “an exalted position in the family, in their company, and even in the campaign,” serving as a trusted adviser and a “surrogate political spouse,” in light of Melania Trump’s aversion to the campaign trail. On the business side, Ivanka has negotiated the Trump Organization’s acquisition of a luxury golf resort in Miami and its renovation of the Old Post Office complex near the White House.
Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2009 under the guidance of influential Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, before marrying the real-estate developer Jared Kushner. According to both Michael Cohen and Jason Greenblatt, Ivanka is a Sabbath observer; Cohen says she keeps “glatt kosher.” While Donald Trump has never undertaken any business projects in Israel, David Friedman told Tablet that he accompanied Ivanka to Israel “a few years ago” to “look at some hotel properties” (although “nothing tangible” came of the trip).
Ivanka almost never talks about her conversion to Judaism in public, but she briefly touched on the subject during a 2015 interview with Vogue. “It’s been such a great life decision for me,” she said of her conversion. “I am very modern, but I’m also a very traditional person, and I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition in how I was raised as well. I really find that with Judaism, it creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”
When the now-35-year-old son of Charles Kushner married Ivanka Trump in 2006, he probably had little idea that the union would eventually turn him into one of the top players in American politics. According to a July New York Times report, Kushner is one of Trump’s closest advisers and serves as a de-facto campaign manager, brokering high-level meetings and mapping out damage control strategies after incidents like the Hillary Clinton-Jewish star tweet. He reportedly authored much of Trump’s well-received AIPAC speech from this past April, the first of the campaign in which the Republican candidate spoke with the aid of a teleprompter. Kushner is also the owner and publisher of the New York Observer, which endorsed Trump before the New York primary in April, in an editorial with the unforgettably frank opening: “Donald Trump is the father-in-law of the Observer’s publisher. That is not a reason to endorse him. Giving millions of disillusioned Americans a renewed sense of purpose and opportunity is.”
The opening lines hint at the tensions embodied in Kushner’s role within the campaign. Kushner is the young, clean-cut face of one of the New York area’s most notorious real-estate clans—someone who could make the Forbes 40-under-40 list and close $2 billion in transactions in 2014 alone, despite his family’s well-documented troubles. At the same time, he’s connected by marriage to what many would already view as an inherently sordid enterprise, namely Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
This tension burst into the open on July 5, when Dana Schwartz, a writer with the New York Observer, used the website of Kushner’s paper to criticize her boss for defending Trump against charges of anti-Semitism, and attaching himself to a presidential candidate who had galvanized legions of Jew-haters. On July 6, Kushner used the Observer to argue that “my father-in-law is not an anti-Semite,” using his family’s history in the Holocaust and his relatives’ survival of the 1941 massacre at the Novogroduk ghetto, to deflect criticism of Trump after the Hillary-Clinton “sheriff star” incident earlier that week.
Kushner’s defense of his father-in-law didn’t sit well with members of Kushner’s own family. According to Politico, one of Kushner’s cousins took to Facebook to chastise him for using his family’s Holocaust history to argue for the innocuousness of an allegedly anti-Semitic image.
Through it all, Kushner has reportedly tried to steer the Trump campaign in a more restrained and respectable direction. He was reportedly involved in the June decision to dismiss Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s volatile former campaign manager. After his firing, Lewandowski said that Kushner was partly responsible for Trump’s Facebook page, which is one of the campaign’s more disciplined messaging organs.
The father of Donald Trump’s son-in-law was a tri-state area real-estate titan and one of the most important Democratic donors in the country. He landed in prison as the result of nearly Shakespearean levels of intrafamilial deceit—and because of the efforts of a federal prosecutor and present-day Trump superfan named Chris Christie.
In 2004, Kushner was investigated for hiding violations of federal limits on campaign contributions, a probe that Christie oversaw while he was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Kushner then hired a prostitute in order to blackmail one of the case’s key witnesses, whose wife then informed investigators of Kushner’s attempts at obstruction of justice. To make matters worse, the witness and target of the blackmail attempt was Kushner’s brother-in-law, and it was Kushner’s sister, Esther, who exposed his plot to the feds. The campaign finance investigation stemmed from a dispute between Kushner and his brother Murray, a major New Jersey Republican donor and one of Chris Christie’s most important boosters.
Charles Kushner served 14 months in prison but remained a major philanthropic donor in northeast Jewish circles. In 2015, he donated $100,000 to Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC. Fifteen years earlier, he had been the largest individual donor to Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign.