“We need a very acute financial mind to get us out of this mire. America is the largest corporation on the planet. You wouldn’t hire a novice to run a similarly sized company in the private markets.” Ivanka Trump 😂😂
Jared flew to Los Angeles to ask Barrack for his advice, and Barrack obliged, helping Donald restructure his debt and holding some of it himself. 1994
There was very little in place for what would happen if Donald actually won. None of them had expected to be there on inauguration day. When their father decided to run, and frankly up until they saw him start winning states on November 8 from the campaign headquarters on the twenty-fourth floor of Trump Tower, a few months earlier, they’d assumed that he would lose and that they would get back to their normal lives and businesses. A concession speech had been written in advance.
Apart from the fact that it meant that he’d won something, Donald didn’t much want to be there. As the reality of the election dawned on him in the weeks leading up to his move, he frequently asked advisers how often he could leave Washington to return to his triplex on Fifth Avenue.
The Trump kids made damn sure that they were at the front and center of everything.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner hustled themselves and their children up to the second floor of the residence in the White House, to the southeastern corner of her father’s new sixteen room home. She was still in the white Oscar de la Renta pantsuit she’d worn all day, through the rain washing over her father’s swearing-in ceremony and the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue marking his inauguration, and chilled to her bones. She would soon change into a glittery champagne gown for the inaugural balls. Her hair would be teased and swept and sprayed into an ornate knot at the nape of her neck. She would prick teardrop diamonds into her ears and slather highlighter onto her cheekbones and underneath her eyebrow and onto her bare clavicle, exposed by the deep V of her dress.
All of that would have to wait. The Trump-Kushners sped into the Lincoln Bedroom, where they had stayed through her dad’s first weekend as the president of the United States of America. The traditional parade flirted dangerously close to sundown, which, on January 20, 2017, fell at 4:59 pm. eastern standard time. As practicing Modern Orthodox Jews, Ivanka and Jared needed to light Shabbat candles as day turned into night in order to observe their own tradition, which Jared had been doing his whole life and Ivanka had joined him in when she converted, years earlier, before they married. She had arranged with the White House usher to have candlesticks waiting in their borrowed room. Usually she would have brought her own, as she typically did for a weekend away, but this weekend, in just about every way, was not typical for the Trumps. She figured the White House must have suitable candelabras lying around. She was correct.
The immediate family of five formed a semicircle around the White House’s candlesticks, and Ivanka struck a match to light the wicks. There they were, in a room Abraham Lincoln had once used as an office; which the Trumans had rebuilt in 1945, Jackie Kennedy had spiffed up in 1961, Hillary Clinton had freshened in the 1990s, and Laura Bush had again refurbished in 2004. The eight-by-six-foot rosewood Lincoln bed, with its six-foot-tall carved headboard-the bed that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge had slept in, was at their backs; a holograph copy of the Gettysburg Address, one of only five signed, dated, and titled by Lincoln, sat on the desk nearby. Ivanka covered her eyes and recited the blessing over the candles: “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel a .” Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandment of lighting Shabbat candles.
It was the first time Shabbat had been welcomed this way in the history of the residence.
SOME FIVE hours earlier, as light sheets of rain fell over Washington, DC, Donald J. Trump had pressed his right hand to two Bibles on the West Lawn of the Capitol and became the forty-fifth person to recite the oath of office, as prescribed by Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution. One of the Bibles he chose was used by Lincoln when he was sworn in at his first inauguration in 1861, as the nation hung on the precipice of the Civil War. The other had been given to him by his mother in 1955, two days before his ninth birthday, just after he graduated from the Sunday Church Primary School at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. Its cover is embossed with his name and, on the inside, signed by church officials.
After taking the oath, Trump turned his back on the crowd and swung his arms open toward his family, who had encircled him as he made his vow to the American people. He first looked eyes with Ivanka, who had positioned herself directly at the center of the dais, with her brother Eric slightly behind her to her left and her half sister Tiffany next to him. Don Jr. was just to lvanka’s back on the other side, her half brother Barron and stepmother turned First Lady Melania beside him. Ivanka cocked her head at her dad, the president, her lips and cheeks pulled so tightly by her smile that her facial muscles contorted themselves into an aptly bronzed rectangle. She dove forward to kiss him, but his instinct kicked in quick. He had never been on this sort of world stage before, but he had spent enough years with his family life chronicled in the papers to know well enough to greet his wife before his favorite daughter. So before she reached him, he swooped to his left and pecked his wife, and then worked his way through his children, Barron, Donny, Ivanka, Eric, Tiffany, to let them congratulate him, tell him how great he’d done, how much they loved him.
The family soon gathered in a motorcade for the inaugural parade. Ivanka and Jared quickly realized that their infant car seat did not fit in their armored car, an inconvenient, startlingly normal fact that held up the entire motorcade and parade on this historic day. “What’s the holdup?” everyone kept asking.
At last, they figured it out. Everyone got moving. At a quarter after four in the afternoon, following the custom President Jimmy Carter began in 1977, when he got out of his limousine and walked for more than a mile en route to the White House, Donald, Melania, and Barron stepped out of “the Beast,” the armored car the president travels in, in front of the Trump International Hotel. Elsewhere along the route, crowds were sparse and protesters had gathered. But in front of the hotel bearing Trump’s name, revelers were packed onto risers, a dozen deep. There were cheers and signs and a sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats. Ivanka and Don Jr. and Eric and their spouses and most of their children followed in cars of their own, and, once he got out of his car, walked alongside their dad, greeting the supporters who’d waited outside for hours in the forty-degree Washington winter.
The family stayed outside for about three minutes before getting back in their cars, which moved along slowly for another half hour, until they arrived at a viewing stand near the White House. Ivanka and Jared whisked inside around sunset.
None of them had expected to be there that day. When their father decided to run, and frankly up until they saw him start winning states on November 8 from the campaign headquarters on the twenty-fourth floor of Trump Tower, a few months earlier, they’d assumed that he would lose and that they would get back to their normal lives and businesses. They would have spent that gray, winter day with the broadcast of the inauguration on in the background as they headed off for weekends at Mara-Lago, or at their homes in Bedminster, or Westchester, or the Catskills. It would have been an otherwise normal winter weekend for an otherwise perfectly happy moneyed family, trying to get back into the swing of their old normal.
Apart from the fact that it meant that he’d won something, Donald didn’t much want to be there. As the reality of the election dawned on him in the weeks leading up to his move, he frequently asked advisers how often he could leave Washington to return to his triplex on Fifth Avenue, and in the weeks after the move he spent most weekends flying on Air Force One down to his private club in Palm Beach.
But it was not a normal weekend, and their old normal was swiftly replaced by an extraordinary new existence -one that they not only didn’t predict but also never could have imagined. Nevertheless, that is where they found themselves on January 20. And once they were there, the Trump kids made damn sure that they were at the front and center of everything.
THERE WERE thousands of things to do once the Trump family woke up bleary-eyed and bewildered on the morning of November 9, barely a few hours after Donald gave his victory speech, scraped together with the kids’ help just before they all rushed over to the ballroom at the Midtown Manhattan Hilton Hotel. A concession speech had been written in advance. Ivanka had plans to get her fashion line back on track come Wednesday morning. She would lay low for a while and let the rhetoric and rancor die down a bit, so that what her team expected to be strong holiday season sales would speak for themselves, starting a whole new narrative. The manuscript for her book for working women would also require her attention; she had just turned it in, and it was set to go to print around the inauguration.
Jared would begin a reputational recovery tour. Friends had told him that would be a feat, now that people viewed him as an asshole; no one would be lining up to do business with him, at least not right after the election loss. Don Jr. and Eric were starting talks with investors and partners about a new, lower tier chain of hotels in heartland cities that would appeal to the Trump supporters they’d met on the trail, turning their MAGA zeal into Trump Organization patronage. Tiffany would be able to focus on her law school applications. Barron could go to school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side without the Secret Service agents who were clogging up drop-off and pickup traffic, enraging the uptown parents and drivers and nannies (to say nothing of back-to-school night, when Melania and her protection locked down the school’s only elevator so she could get to Barron’s classroom; this left the rest of the parents to hoof it up the stairs, rocketing the school rageometer to full-scale fury).
There was very little in place for what would happen if Donald actually won.
Now an inaugural weekend had to be put together, which required months of planning and millions of dollars and at least a basic understanding of its history and traditions. Trump tapped Tom Barrack, his friend of three decades, to chair the committee. In a statement on November 15, Donald announced that Barrack-a private equity billionaire who had served as deputy undersecretary of the Department of Interior under Reagan and been one of Donald’s cheeriest surrogates and advisers throughout the campaign (and the man who urged Ivanka and Jared to get Donald to hire Paul Manafort)-would be “responsible for the planning and coordination of all official events and activities surrounding the inauguration.”
Barrack and Trump had first crossed paths in 1987, when Donald summoned him to Trump Tower. At the time, Barrack was working for a rich Texas family that owned a department store chain Donald wanted to buy a piece of, which he did, thanks to Barrack’s help. The family also owned the Plaza Hotel, which Donald could see from his office window in Trump Tower and itched to add to his growing Manhattan empire. The problem was that Barrack’s bosses wanted $410 million for the property. It was a bum deal for Donald, but it was a New York institution, the kind of storied figure in New York Donald himself wanted to become. It was a crown jewel. And Donald, a Queens outsider and something of a punch line, wanted it for his crown. So he agreed to pay the price-in cash, no less. And after he’d thrown his kids’ birthday parties in the hotel, and later met with Ivana there to hash out the early details of their separation, and later married Marla Maples there, the place dragged him near financial ruin.
In 1994 a guy Barrack knew from Chase Manhattan Bank called to tell him Donald was in trouble. He had a $100 million loan with Chase, and a mountain of other debts, and at the very least he needed to unload the Plaza. Barrack persuaded the bank to give Donald a little breathing room to find financing before they foreclosed. In the time that bought, they found a Saudi Arabian prince and a hotel group out of Singapore to take it off his hands. More than a decade later Donald asked Barrack, who, in his own Trumpian outer-borough desire to make it in Manhattan, had bought a forty-onestory office tower on Fifth Avenue for what was then the highest price for a commercial building in US history and was struggling to make the loan payments. Jared flew to Los Angeles to ask Barrack for his advice, and Barrack obliged, helping him restructure his debt and holding some of it himself.
The inauguration gig was a high-profile thank you for Barrack, and a relief for Donald, who’d been saved by Barrack enough times before that he trusted him to do it again. Barrack brought on a team of other billionaires and Trump loyalists, including Sheldon Adelson, Woody Johnson, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Wynn, Elliott Broidy, and Laurie Perlmutter, to help him out.
He asked Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former Vogue editor and friend of Melania’s known around the Condé Nast office as General Winston for the military efficiency with which she planned the annual Met Gala, to serve as an editor-at-Iarge for the inauguration. She took on all the heavy lifting-securing venues and event planners, deciding on table settings, arranging broadcast rights and social media filters, figuring out how to move heavy equipment around Washington, and perhaps the heaviest lift of all, getting talent to perform at events throughout the weekend. Inaugurations past had been filled with megawatt star power. At Barack Obama’s, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, and Kelly Clarkson performed; at George W. Bush’s, Ricky Martin, 98 Degrees, and Jessica Simpson; for Bill Clinton’s, Fleetwood Mac got back together again for a rare performance. Virtually no celebrities wanted to perform at a Trump inauguration. That would have been an issue for any incoming president, but it was particularly sticky for Trump, whose fragile ego cracked at the slightest of insults from nobodies.
Wolkoff asked Mark Burnett, the creator of The Apprentice, to comb through his Rolodex to convince stars to take part in the weekend, if not in support of Donald, out of patriotic duty. Still, they couldn’t get a big name. In fact, everyone whose name was so much as floated as a possible inaugural performer immediately disassociated themselves. When a rumor circulated that Elton John would give a concert on the Mall, his spokesperson quickly threw water on it. Garth Brooks initially appeared open to the idea, since “it’s always about serving,” but soon afterward declined an offer to appear. The same happened with Andrea Bocelli, Kiss, and Jennifer Holliday. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, however, did accept the invitation to sing at the swearing-in ceremony. They booked America’s Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho for the national anthem. The Rockettes agreed to perform at the inaugural balls, though some dancers refused to partake, complaining to their union about being asked to perform for what one Rockette described as a man who “stands for everything we’re against.”
At the same time, millions of people, including Katy Perry, Cher, and Madonna, were preparing to walk in women’s marches around the country. In fact, reports stated that DC issued far more permits for city buses for the march on Saturday than for Donald’s swearing in on Friday. And in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, nearly seventy lawmakers vowed to boycott the events to protest the messages Donald had run on and the rhetoric he used during the campaign and after the election.
With protests looming and virtually no one famous set to attend, the inaugural committee’s message shifted. As Barrack spun it, with “the biggest celebrity in the world” as president, other stars were superfluous. “So what we’ve done,” Barrack said, “instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers, is we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place. It’s a much more poetic cadence than having a circuslike celebration that’s a coronation. That’s the way this president-elect wanted it.”
Where’s the crowd?
It was, in a word, a disaster, and they needed all hands on deck. The Trump kids jumped into the planning, though not necessarily to aid in the process or to take on some of the burden. They each wanted to make sure that they individually would be involved in each public event, and took great pains to make sure not only that they would be present but that their seating arrangements were satisfactory. Their proximity to Donald on that day, and thus their presence in photographs that would be telegraphed all over the world that weekend and in history books for centuries, was paramount.
Melania, as the incoming First Lady, tried to organize a weekend that kept them all together. That meant all five kids, all eight grandchildren, would be welcome to stay the Thursday evening before the inauguration at the Blair House, just across the road from the White House, and spend the rest of the weekend in the residence once the Obamas moved out and the Trumps moved in. No one would sleep on couches or double up; Melania made sure that each sibling had his or her own room and determined who would sleep where, though Ivanka did put in a request to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Melania arranged enough time for breakfasts and lunches and dinners together as a family, to anchor everyone in the headiest of weekends. She had buffets to be set up throughout the weekend so that no one would go hungry.
Melania was less certain when it came to the parade, which would have the family making the same walk toward the White House on the twentieth of January that presidents have made for nearly half a century. There have been few American political climates so vitriolic and acerbically divided as the one that existed after Donald’s election, and she had deep concerns about getting out of the car and marching alongside her eleven-year-old in the open, even with the Secret Service and protection teams that would surround them.
Ivanka was set on the parade. “It’s happening,” she insisted. It was tradition. It was presidential. It was not something her father and the family were going to miss out on.
There was a sense among those who worked on the transition that the legacy aspect of the inauguration was critical for Ivanka. This was a chance for the Trumps to have their Kennedy moment, one that looked a lot like Camelot. Melania, in her Ralph Lauren powderblue suit with matching blue gloves, her hair teased into a bouffant, consciously channeled Jackie on inauguration day. (Initially, she had toyed with the idea of wearing the now infamous red, white, and blue Gucci ensemble that Kellyanne wore and got panned for, but a fashion editor and adviser to Melania nixed it, reminding her of the importance of wearing American designers that weekend.)
Ivanka looked to establish the Trumps as the new American royal family. She worked with a stylist and told friends that she wanted a princess moment, particularly for the inaugural balls, for which she chose a sparkly tulle confection.
“I told her it’s an inauguration, not a coronation,” one friend recalled. “The sentiment was that Americans wanted a royal family.”
(A blown-up photograph of her in that gown, dancing with Jared onstage, hangs outside her office in the West Wing, with a note scrawled across it in metallic Sharpie. “To the most beautiful couple in the world,” her father wrote across the image. “I am so proud of you. Love, Dad.”)
There was less meaning ascribed to the Oscar de la Renta white pantsuit Ivanka chose for the actual swearing-in ceremony. Of course, the choice raised eyebrows. White pantsuits were a Hillary Clinton thing, so much so that Hillary herself wore one on inauguration day. When advisers brought that up to Ivanka in advance of the day, she shrugged it off. “It definitely was not intentional, her choosing to wear that,” one adviser remembered. “She was like, ‘oh shit,’ not in a stupid way, but she didn’t mean to make it a thing. It really wasn’t.”
THAT IVANKA wanted to harken back to the Kennedys was no surprise. Certainly her mother, Ivana, who had longed for a place in the world of old-money American royalty, played a role in this, at least during her daughter’s childhood. For years, Ivana told people that Ivanka’s beloved Irish nanny, Bridget Carroll, had nannied for John Kennedy Jr. before moving in with the Trump family, though there is no proof of that, other than Ivana’s mentions. She took credit for choosing her daughter’s schools, first Chapin, the all-girls private school that Jacqueline Bouvier attended, and then Choate, the boarding school from which John Kennedy graduated. In Ivana’s recent book about her children, she noted that the Kennedy family would travel to Aspen for holidays at the same time the Trump family did, engaging in side-by-side slalom races against one another. “It was the Trumps vs. the Kennedys,” she wrote, “and Trump always won.”
At Choate, Ivanka told classmates, particularly when it came up in her political history classes, of her admiration for Jackie Kennedy as a leader. (One classmate remembers that she always took an interest in the Roosevelt family, too, and in Anna Roosevelt in particular. Franklin Roosevelt tapped Anna, his only daughter, who, like her father, had a somewhat sticky relationship with the First Lady, to work in his West Wing after she and her young children had lived with him in the White House during the early years of his presidency. She served as his personal assistant, accompanying her father to the Yalta Conference in World War II, while Eleanor Roosevelt stayed behind.)
Jared and his family had their own affinity for the Kennedys. Jared’s father Charlie keenly referred to himself as the “Jewish Kennedy,” seeing himself as both a king and kingmaker in the northern New Jersey religious community in which, thanks to healthy donations, many of the buildings bore his name. When it came time for Jared to apply to Harvard as a high school senior, Charlie nudged his senator, Frank Lautenberg, to ask his colleague Ted Kennedy to put in a good word with the dean of admissions in Cambridge. When Jared moved into a corner office overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the family baptized Caroline Kennedy and eulogized Bobby Kennedy after his death, he hung just one photo on the wall next to his desk. It was a framed Garry Winogrand snap of Jack Kennedy delivering his speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The shot catches JFK from behind, camera lights creating a halo around the side of his head and contours of his jaw. A television set propped up just behind the desk broadcasts his face again in black and white for the viewer to see.
“I love the juxtaposition of him looking that way and seeing him the other way,” Jared told New York Magazine of the photo in 2009. “I love the glow in his face. I look at it all the time.” He bought all the photos in the series, but kept the rest in a box. (Later, once he and Ivanka had married and moved into a Trump building on Park Avenue, Winogrand photographs lined the hallways of their apartment.) After Jared was sworn in as senior adviser to the president at the tail end of inauguration weekend, he and his brother Josh posed for a photo underneath the somber portrait of JFK hanging in the White House.
John F. Kennedy delivering his speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles
When Ivanka and Jared got married, they decided to release one photo after the nuptials, in the style of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, rather than selling them to a magazine. When they had children, all the names they chose evoked Kennedy family ties, Arabella Rose, Joseph, and Theodore. Jackie Kennedy unofficially referred to her and JFK’s stillborn daughter as Arabella, though the baby was never given a birth certificate, and when she was later moved to be buried alongside her father, her gravestone simply read “Daughter,” along with her birthday. Rose, of course, was the name of the Kennedy matriarch.
“I have always loved the name Arabella,” Ivanka said in an interview with The Today Show a month after her daughter was born. Childhood friends remember her always coming back to the name when they were growing up and brainstorming what they would name their future children someday. They were hardly surprised when she settled on it as her first child’s name decades later. “Jared’s grandmothers had names beginning with an A and an R. We wanted to pay subtle homage to those two strong and wonderful women while also adopting a name that was very unique. Plus, we thought that the initials, ARK, were cool!”
Joseph was the name of both JFK’s father and Jared’s grandfather, and Frederick, their son’s middle name, was Donald’s father’s name. Ivanka posted on her Tumblr when her son was born in 2013 that they chose to name him after their paternal grandfathers, “both master builders of their generation and inspiring patriarchs of their families.”
“Jared’s grandfather, Joseph, was a rock. His indomitable spirit, his sense of family, and his work ethic are the values we hope to hand down to our son. My grandfather, Frederick, was a builder not just of tens of thousands of homes throughout this city, but of a tightknit family that honors to this day the traditions he established. Both men set the standards that have been passed down through the generations and which we hope to impart upon Joseph and Arabella. They created a legacy for our family that inspires our careers as well as our love and respect for one another. We are honored to name our son after these two distinguished men. We feel so blessed with the newest member of the family!”
Theodore is not as exact a match, Ted Kennedy’s first name was short for Edward, but the similarity, after an Arabella Rose and a Joseph, is hard to ignore, especially among those who believe the couple viewed their own gilded, millennialized, social-media-propagated version of Camelot as the end game.
It goes without saying that the clearest and most recent cribbing of Kennedyesque behavior came after the election. Donald chose to tap his son-in-law to serve in his West Wing, and not long after, his daughter joined them in an official capacity as well. Ethics experts sounded the alarms immediately; this violated an anti-nepotism law that had come to be known as the Bobby Kennedy Law, because it took effect six years after JFK appointed his brother Bobby to be his attorney general in 1961. The law was upheld for fifty years, until the Trumps’ lawyers found a work-around. The way they read it, the White House is not an agency, and the president enjoys broad executive powers. In the Trump administration, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be just like the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, with a little touch of Kennedy-era nostalgia lawmakers thought they’d banned five decades earlier.
They viewed their own gilded, millennialized, social-media propagated version of Camelot as the end game.
IN THE midst of all the inauguration jostling, Jared and Ivanka decided to move to Washington. Not only would they have to figure out how to divest themselves of portions of their businesses, set up trusts, and figure out who would take over their responsibilities within their family businesses and outside ventures; they’d also need to find somewhere to live and a school for their kids. Melania was having a hard enough time getting the schools to which presidents typically send their young children to even let Barron apply. Ivanka and Jared had two kids who needed to be in school, and they needed to find a Jewish day school. So Seryl Kushner, Jared’s mother, took on the task. Jared and Ivanka hired a broker and made a few day trips down to DC to look at houses. Jared’s father, Charles, was the one to negotiate the lease. Sometimes dad knows best.
AS PROTOCOL dictated, the whole family boarded a military plane that would take them from New York to Washington on Thursday afternoon. At Joint Base Andrews, Barron made his way down the stairs off the plane first, followed by Don Jr., his wife Vanessa, and their five children, and Eric and his wife Lara. Then came Ivanka, with her little baby boy in her arms, her emerald-green Oscar de la Renta dress and matching coat with its drapy collar blowing in the wind on the tarmac, her big black Jackie O. sunglasses resting on the bridge of her nose. Jared and Ivanka’s two older kids trailed behind her. Tiffany came next, followed by Melania and Donald.
The family soon hopped in a motorcade headed for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where Donald and Mike Pence would lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns. Before her father came out, Ivanka, Jared, and her daughter, Arabella, descended the stairs toward the memorial, in the open plaza overlooking Washington, DC. Ivanka positioned herself closest to the center of the staircase, where her father would later stand, all but ensuring that she would be in almost every frame wide enough to take in the scene. Eric and Tiffany were farther to her left, and Don Jr. and his wife and daughter got stuck behind them.
Then there was the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration on the ninety-eight granite and marble stairs at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. The highlight, perhaps, was Lee Greenwood’s rendition of “Proud to Be an American,” to which the Trump family, who were off to the side of the stage on seats arranged for them, sang along. Donald and Melania sat in the front row, with the two seats next to them reserved for Ivanka and Jared, as they had requested. Her siblings filled in the rows behind them.
That evening they headed over to Union Station for a black-tie candlelight dinner with Donald’s cabinet nominees and Republican megadonors. The kids had tables reserved for their friends, where they ate grilled white and green asparagus, roasted branzino with lemon and thyme, and vanilla meringue cakes. They sipped wine out of gilded glasses specifically chosen with Camelot in mind, while listening to their father rehash “this beautiful map” that had emerged on the eve of the election. He thanked Ivanka, who sat next to Wendi Murdoch, wearing a white cap-sleeved Oscar de la Renta column gown with an oversize black bow tied in the back at her waist. He thanked his siblings and their spouses, and boasted that he had a family who actually got along. He then went on to acknowledge his children. “My sons, look at them, standing there,” he said, pointing their way. “I say ‘Why aren’t you campaigning today?’ Eric and Don and Tiffany, who was incredible. And Barron is home.” He then went on to praise Patriots owner Bob Kraft and tell the crowd that his quarterback Tom Brady, who, a decade earlier, Trump told reporters had dated Ivanka, had called to congratulate him.
Separately, he singled out Ivanka. “We have in the audience a special person who’s worked very hard, who married very well. It’s my daughter Ivanka. Where is she?” Then, spotting her in the crowd, he said, “I sort of stole her husband. He is so great. If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”
After a night’s rest in Blair House, the positioning continued on Friday in the swearing-in ceremony, where again Ivanka moved toward the center of the frame when her father approached Chief Justice John Roberts to recite his oath of office. That evening, since it was Shabbat, the Secret Service had to work with the couple to develop a special security plan. Traditionally, those observing the Sabbath do not travel in cars from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. But that would have meant they would not be able to attend any of Friday’s balls or the events on the following day, which, for a couple who wanted to be part of everything, was not an option. Walking was out of the question; their detail told them it was not safe, given the vitriol and the protests. Plus, Ivanka had her princess gown and heels on, and the balls were not exactly a hop and a skip away from the White House. So they asked special permission from their rabbi to break the rules of Shabbat, since it was a matter of safety, and what they argued was a once-in-a-lifetime familial opportunity.
They made the most of it. Donald and Melania were meant to share their first dance on stage alone. Planners had no idea that the children would later join them on stage for a family-wide slow dance; Donald, who knew that he was not a skilled dancer and was aware of just how long the song was, asked his children to come out onstage to cut some of the lingering awkwardness. By the second ball that evening, once they’d seen just how uncomfortable he looked the first go around, they joined him out there even earlier in the song. Afterward Tiffany and her boyfriend went back to the Trump Hotel, where they met her mother, Marla, and a few friends from New York. The rest of the family spent the night at the White House.
The next morning, the family attended a service at the National Cathedral. They were all exhausted by that point, especially the grandchildren. They’d patiently sat through the wreath-laying and the concert and the parade in preceding days, but a long, early morning in church was asking too much. Ivanka handed her son Joseph toy cars to keep him occupied, which she quickly regretted. He shot one straight down the aisle, past all the pews, confusing the people gathered there to pray and pay tribute to the presidential rite of passage.
The extended family had settled into the White House by Saturday afternoon. Don Jr.’s son slurped cereal out of a bowl in the dining room wearing his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas. Theodore, Ivanka’s youngest, crawled for the first time in the state dining room as they all had a buffet lunch that Melania made sure was set up for them after the church service. Don Jr. and his wife and kids took a spin in the bowling alley in the basement.
By Sunday afternoon there was one official event left, in the East Room of the White House. Donald swore in members of his senior staff, including Jared, who would serve as his senior adviser. Jared’s parents and brother Josh tried to keep Jared and Ivanka’s kids quiet while their dad recited his oath. Josh handed the kids a container of jellybeans, which they promptly spilled on the floor of the East Room. Josh quietly swept them up, hoping no one would notice.
By Sunday evening Don Jr. and Eric and their families and Tiffany had flown back to New York. So had Melania and Barron, who wouldn’t move down to Washington for another five months. When Melania got back to the Trump Tower triplex, it was empty. There was no Donald, no frantic campaign staff or inauguration committees. There was nothing more to plan, at least for the time being. She called one of her closest friends to come over to keep her company. She was now the First Lady of the United States. She was also completely, utterly alone.
Ivanka and Jared stayed behind in DC, arriving at the nearly century-old, 6,800-square-foot home they rented, with six bedrooms, seven baths, five wood-burning fireplaces, a two-car garage, a sunroom, a garden, and a terrace off their bedroom. This was their first night there, and they hadn’t yet picked out all of their furniture. So they ordered in pizza and ate dinner on the hardwood floor. The sun set on life as they knew it. A new normal dawned.
ON JUNE 16, 2015, Ivanka glided down the gilded escalators into the lobby of Trump Tower, her father’s crown jewel in Midtown Manhattan, where she and her brothers had grown up and now worked as executives in the Trump Organization. She slipped past the crowd gathered with the burnished mauve marble walls, adorned on that day with royal blue signs emblazoned with “TRUMP Make America Great Again.” Wearing a white sheath dress, her corn-yellow hair parted down the center and swept into a bun, revealing two dangly silver hoop earrings that swayed as she took her place behind the dais, she smiled at the hundred or so people awaiting an announcement and inhaled. Flanked by a half dozen American flags, she began: “Today, I have the honor of introducing a man who needs no introduction. This man,” she said, “is my father.” The crowd erupted, and her pink-painted lips parted in a toothy grin. Her nose crinkled, and after a particularly raucous shout from the floor above, she let out a little giggle. She went on to praise her father, for his career success, for his negotiating prowess, for his say-it-like-he-means-it candor, for his loyalty to friends. “I’ve enjoyed the good fortune of working alongside my father for ten years now, and I’ve seen these principles in action daily,” she said.
But before she worked for him, in a technical function, that is; the Trump kids have been employees serving his brand in some capacity since they arrived on earth, he told his children they had to work hard and strive for excellence in all that they did, she said: “I remember him telling me when I was a little girl, ‘Ivanka, if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well be thinking big.”’ There was no better person to have in your corner when you were facing tough opponents or making tough decisions. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, dipping closer to the microphone, “it is my pleasure to introduce to you today a man who I have loved and respected my entire life, Donald J. Trump.”
She beamed at the crowd as Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” blasted from the speakers, bouncing off all that marble. For two minutes and forty-five seconds, a full two verses and two choruses of the song and into the bridge, she stood there, nodding and smiling and fidgeting onstage, before Donald Trump emerged from the escalator. Don Jr. and Jared and Tiffany kept staring at her from just off stage right, where they’d watched her introduction, appearing as uncomfortable about her languishing up there waiting as she was.
Finally Donald greeted her, gave his speech, and announced his candidacy, which was mostly received as a joke and a branding opportunity by the media and anyone who knew or watched the Donald on television or in the tabloids or around New York for decades.
It was not the first time Donald had flirted with a presidential run. Or the second or third time, either. He did this periodically, when it served his company or stroked his ego, or when he tapped into a message that resonated. And his children had responded in kind each time they were asked over the years about their father’s political ambitions. Don Jr. showed up to a town hall in the fall of 1999 on campus at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an undergraduate at the time. His dad was toying with the idea of running as a candidate for the Reform Party, and he let Chris Matthews interview him live for Hardball in front of 1,200 students, including Don Jr., who was made to stand up in front of the crowd. “He’s much better looking than I am,” Donald told the audience. Ivanka was also repeatedly asked about her dad’s presidential aspirations over the years. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, she said that her father was “exactly what we need” in the leader of the free world. “He’s the best equipped to deal with the most important issues this nation has, which is ultimately that we’re suffering under a massive burden of debt,” she said.
“We need a very acute financial mind to get us out of this mire. America is the largest corporation on the planet. You wouldn’t hire a novice to run a similarly sized company in the private markets.” Despite their praise, he never made the leap.
This time, though, their father had actually gone through with it. Ivanka reveled in the moment. Don Jr. radiated excitement as he rode up in the elevator after his dad’s speech. His phone would not stop ringing. “My Special Forces friend just texted me,” he told former Trump Organization employee Sam Nunberg in the elevator going back up to his office. “He loved it.” A handful of the people he hunted with sent him similar laudatory messages. “They fucking loved it.”
FROM THERE, Don Jr. was dispatched onto the trail. He was perhaps the only real conservative out of the whole lot of them. He had a little bit of red state under the Patrick Batemanesque exterior, the slicked-back hair, the veneers, the big fat tie knots. He went on weeks-long hunting trips and spent time in the middle of the country and somewhat understood life outside of Trump Tower and golf courses and gilded everything. So operatives deployed him to make campaign stops. Ivanka often introduced her father, a tightly wound blond spoonful of sugar leading into his acerbic, rambling speeches. Eric would go on Fox News, as would his wife, Lara. They sat in the family sections at the debates, and participated in town halls, and had dinner at diners in the freezing cold New Hampshire winter. They had a sense that this moment was both fleeting and once-in-a-Iifetime, inviting childhood friends and close associates to come with them backstage at debates or other key rallies, knowing full well that this was probably the only time they would get anywhere near this close to the political process, and it would all be over in a flash.
OF COURSE it wasn’t. By the time Donald started actually winning primaries, the Trump kids, in part filling in for their stepmother, who loathed the trail and preferred to stay in New York with Barron, took on their roles in the campaign as near full-time jobs.
Donald just about clinched the nomination in early May, winning the Indiana primary. Ted Cruz, one of the last Republican men standing by that point, bowed out that evening. Donald rode those escalators once again down into that mauve marble lobby to give a victory speech. Melania stood to his left, Ivanka and Jared, Eric and Lara, Don Jr. and Vanessa to his right, all closed-mouth smiles and shine.
“I want to start by, as always, thanking my family.” Donald leaned into the microphone his campaign had set up on a makeshift stage in front of a cheering crowd in his red baseball hats. “My wife, my kids. They’re not kids anymore, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re kids. They’ll always be my kids,” he joked. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch and it’s a beautiful thing to behold and we’re going to make America great again.”
He singled out his son-in-law, praising him for the work he had done to get him to that point. “Honestly, Jared is a very successful real estate person, but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate,” he told the audience, sending Ivanka into a laughing fit. “But he’s very good at politics.”
A few days later Ohio governor John Kasich dropped out of the race, making him the sixteenth opponent Donald had put a pin in. As the presumptive nominee, he would soon start receiving intelligence briefings on national security matters and immediately shift to a general election plan. Life beyond the primaries smacked the Trumps in the face. There was a level of planning and organization that the tiny Trump team of novices could not themselves begin to fathom, but they had enough sense and outside advice to start making incremental plans on specific, necessary next steps. That’s when Donald put another load on Jared’s shoulders. He asked him to come up with a blueprint for a transition team, though Jared himself would not be involved with transition activities should his father-in-law win in November. Jared, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and senior adviser Paul Manafort started pulling together ideas for who could join the team and what the priorities should be.
Donald set his mind on New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the guy he wanted to lead the transition. Sure, Christie had been critical of Donald when he ran his own bid for the presidency, but he was among the first former opponents to endorse him in February. The complicating factor was that Jared, assigned to lead the charge here, despised the guy. Christie had put Jared’s father behind bars a little more than a decade earlier, after all, and kept him there for twenty-eight days longer than the Kushner family expected. The simmering tension was no secret, and Donald was sensitive to it, particularly because he knew Ivanka would be sensitive to it as well. But it was Donald’s campaign, and at least in this instance, no one could talk him out of it.
By May 9 Donald had already made the offer to Christie. He asked the governor to come to his office on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, where Donald did most of his campaign work when he was in New York, amid a crush of sports memorabilia, Tom Brady’s Super Bowl helmet, Mike Tyson’s belt, Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 black and white basketball sneaker. A photo of Donald’s father Fred shared the desk with stacks of paper, framed magazine covers bearing his likeness lined the walls, and the red leather armless chair he’d sat in as the host of The Apprentice was tucked into the room’s far end. Corey Lewandowski came, too, and they began to hammer out the parameters of how the transition would work and what notes they wanted to hit in a press release announcing his appointment.
Jared joined them, too, and he tried to pump the brakes. “Well, we don’t have to rush this,” he chimed in. “Let’s take our time with this.”
Lewandowski interrupted him. Actually, they did have to rush this. The White House had already asked for the name of a transition head, and it was sure to come up at the meeting scheduled in a few weeks. They needed to decide this and get it out there already. Donald agreed with him. What was the point in waiting, anyway? The choice was made. Let’s get on with it.
Unlike Charlie Kushner, whose temper flashed and burned a whole room down in an instant, Jared simmered. The angrier he got, the quieter he became. So when he opened his mouth to respond, he was at little more than a whisper. It was rare for him to talk about his father’s stint in prison so openly, but on this day Jared unleashed. What came out was an impassioned monologue that went on so long that his father-in-Iaw ultimately had to interrupt him. “It’s unfair,” Jared said. “He took advantage of my family members for his own ambition, and you don’t understand what he did to us.”
Christie, no shrinking violet, either, boiled in his seat. Before he could Open his mouth, though, Donald jumped to his defense. “The guy was just doing his job. If you were there, you would have done the same thing,” he told his son-in-law. “You really should be mad at your own family here. They are the ones who turned over all that information to Chris.” Jared’s real problem, he added, was that he hadn’t known Donald at the time of his father’s trial; Donald and Christie were such good friends that things would have turned out differently. Christie would have taken it easier on his friend’s family. “No, no, no,” Christie interrupted. “I like you a lot, but I assure you it would not have been any different.”
“No, no, no,” Donald retorted. “It would have been different.” Donald then suggested that Jared, Charlie, Donald, and Christie go out to dinner together, to clear the air. Jared suggested that that might not be the best idea.
“Jared, you and I have talked about this,” Donald said soothingly. “Chris is the guy.”
“Fine,” Jared told him. “If that’s your decision, that’s your decision.” He turned around and walked out. Soon after, Lewandowski asked to be excused, too.
That afternoon the campaign sent out the release announcing Christie’s appointment. “Governor Christie is an extremely knowledgeable and loyal person with the tools and resources to put together an unparalleled Transition Team, one that will be prepared to take over the White House when we win in November. I am grateful to Governor Christie for his contributions to this movement,” Donald said in a statement.
ONCE THE decision was made, Donald and Jared called Charlie Kushner to let him know about Christie officially heading the transition, both asking for his blessing and making sure that it would not irreparably damage the inlaws’ relationship. It was a move out of respect and necessity, and one made with a great deal of anxiety. Charlie’s temper was a thing of legend in the tristate area. He would rip into anybody anywhere, burning his victims’ eardrums with the volume of his bellow.
Charlie played it cool when Donald called to let him know about the transition choice. He listened patiently to what his machatunim had to say. He took a breath. “Listen,” he said into the phone. “The most important thing is that you win and that you are prepared.” To those who heard the phone call, or how Donald and Jared recounted it, Charlie seemed genuinely magnanimous. Helpful and kind, even. The private father-son follow-up conversation went differently. Those close to the family recalled that Charlie told Jared they could let Christie do his thing now. This would get taken care of down the road. And indeed, six months later, just days after the election, Christie got canned from his gig, after months of working without pay, traveling to the transition offices in Washington every Wednesday, planning for the day when he would be able to execute on all the preparation he and his team had built up. Many believed the decision in large part stemmed from Jared, which they believed had been his plan from the get-go.
THE FIRST conversation between Jared and Christie about the transition role was not a walk in the park. It allayed no concerns over their ability to play nice as they worked to build one of the most complex, consuming, technical, and hugely vital aspects of a general election campaign, and prepare for a potential thereafter. So they talked it out. Don. Jr. was away from Trump Tower for the day they were due to meet during the summer of 2016, leaving his office on the twenty-fifth floor open. Jared asked Christie to meet him there. Across a round table, he admitted that he had not handled their last interaction as well as he had hoped to. He had reflected on it, he said, and come to the conclusion that the most important thing was that Donald win and be as well prepared to be president as he could be. He had put the past behind him, and he wanted them to work together throughout this whole thing.
Christie was skeptical. Just how past it could a guy who carried the wallet his dad made him while he was in prison really be? Christie himself had not totally put it behind him, particularly months later, long after Jared had a hand in firing him from his role, and reports of Jared’s meetings with Russian officials and involvement in the firing of FBI director James Comey caught the attention of investigators in the Robert Mueller probe. “Good thing I saved his father’s prison number,” Christie would joke with friends.
The two would be working together whether Jared and Christie had let it go or not. They were both professionals, who both wanted the transition planning to go smoothly. Neither wanted to spend their time sparring when there was so much daunting work to get done in short order.
A few factors made Christie’s eventual ouster a slick operation to pull off. Donald not only declined to be involved in the transition plans but also refused to hear about, read about, or talk about them. He had no clue whether Christie had done a good job getting everything together, whether the team he’d assembled knew their stuff, whether enough of the right materials were produced, and whether the policies and protocols and frameworks they spent months detailing jibed with how he would want to form his government after November 9. He could only rely on what other people he trusted, like, say, his children and their spouses-told him about the process.
Donald’s choice to stay removed from the transition had nothing to do with ethical concerns, time constraints, or a mental compartmentalization that pushed him to focus on only one goal at a time. He wanted nothing to do with transition talk because he thought it was “bad karma.” When he read in the papers or saw on the news any detail of the transition planning, he’d call his friends and staffers, screaming bloody murder. They would explain to him that, bad karma or not, they were complying with a federal law on the books since the 1960s that required a transition team for an orderly transfer of power between an outgoing and an incoming administration. If he didn’t want to have a hand in that, that was fine. But they couldn’t just not go forward with the whole thing.
Jared, by contrast, involved himself in the minutia. He ran a meeting every Monday on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, at which he, Christie, Jeff Sessions, and Rich Bagger, Christie’s former chief of staff, who he brought on to serve as the transition’s executive director, discussed staffing, policy priorities, and the various aspects of the planning. If for some reason they could not all meet in person, a conference call was set up. Rarely, if ever, did this check-in get canceled entirely. Jared reviewed the résumés and signed off on every staffer transition officials wanted to bring on, from secretaries on up to national security and economic team members. All the vetting they were doing on potential Cabinet picks also needed his approval.
BY JUNE, the Trump kids had grown tired of Lewandowski. They thought he appealed to their father’s worst instincts; they knew to pull their dad back when he was running full speed toward the deep end and steer him in the other direction, but they felt Lewandowski egged him on to cannonball right in. He was a yes man when Donald desperately needed no guys around him, particularly as the campaign neared the general election phase.
They also hated the fact that Lewandowski was always the first to board Trump Force One with the candidate and travel with him to every rally, every campaign stop, kicking his feet up on the plane and settling in rather too comfortably, as they saw it. Plus, he was a mooch, who would order cases of Red Bull and blow through a full case daily, leaving his breath reeking of the energy drink. It did not sit well with the family that Donald was letting him stay in a Trump apartment. “He was the campaign manager, and all he cared about was the plane and being close to the boss, and he’d constantly take,” one associate remembered. “Why wasn’t he back in Trump Tower actually running the campaign instead of freeloading off the Trump attention?”
There was also the issue of all the negative headlines Lewandowski generated that spring. First he grabbed a reporter by the arm at an event in Florida and was arrested, but the charges were dropped. Then there was the shouting match with communications director Hope Hicks on Sixty-First and Park Avenue in mid-May, which was chronicled in the New York Post gossip column Page Six. Lewandowski was married, and Hope was the Trump family darling, a PR girl who worked on Ivanka’s brand before she was brought in-house and, later, got hired by Donald to work in the Trump Organization. That she fell into a romantic relationship with Lewandowski during the campaign became a sore spot between Hope and Ivanka and her siblings, who saw Hope as one of them. That it spilled out into a public spat in the very paper that had published every last detail of their father’s affair was unacceptable.
It wasn’t just the Trump kids who had problems with Lewandowski. Reince Priebus, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, bristled around him. So did other key Trump loyalists, who viewed him as both unreliable and unable to pivot to a general election campaign. And so on June 20, before Donald even got down to the twenty-sixth floor, Don Jr., Michael Cohen, and Matt Calamari called in Lewandowski at seven o’clock in the morning. Why have him work a full day if they knew he was going to be out? And why give Donald the opportunity to vacillate and change his mind? “It’s over,” Don Jr. told Corey. Calamari walked him out.
“Things had to change,” Don Jr. said in an interview on Good Morning America after the ouster. “No, he didn’t see this coming. There was nothing malicious or even vicious about it.” He added that his father needed to transition to the general. “I think there’s also time to move on. Those are the tough decisions you have to make when you’re running for president.”
AS THE Republican National Convention in Cleveland inched closer, all the kids wheedled their way into the process of deciding who their father would choose as his vice presidential pick. By July 11, Donald and his team had whittled down the list to three names. Chris Christie was in there. So was Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House turned cable news pundit and Trump cheerleader. Indiana governor Mike Pence, a Christian conservative straight out of central casting, made the short list, too, as the clear favorite of many members of the Trump team, as well as Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The first two, however, had proved themselves not only loyal friends but people Donald actually liked and wanted to shoot the shit with, two of his most valued qualities to Donald. Pence, he barely knew beyond the political boxes he checked and the polling numbers his aides presented him with.
They certainly made an odd couple: a thrice-married adulterer who boasted about grabbing women’s genitals, and a man who would not even go to a dinner with a woman who wasn’t his wife (whom he affectionately calls “Mother”).
That Monday started what looked a lot like sweeps week in the VP sweepstakes. On Sunday Donald met with Pence in Indiana. On Monday, Donald told people that the vetting file his team had prepared on Gingrich made Donald look like a saint by contrast, effectively knocking him out of the running. And so by the time Tuesday rolled around, it looked as though there were only two options on the table, though in Trumplandia, nothing is ever really a done deal until it is a done deal. And even then, he could still walk things back or reverse course, without acknowledging that a shift had even happened.
On Tuesday, Pence introduced the candidate at a private fund-raiser and public rally in Westfield, Indiana. “We are ready to put a fighter, a builder, and a patriot in the Oval Office,” he shouted to the crowd. Trump, ever the reality television host drumming up interest, asked his supporters how Pence was doing in his job as governor. “Good? I think so,” he joked. “I don’t know if he is going to be your governor or vice president. Who the hell knows?”
By that point, certainly not Donald Trump. That evening he got stranded in Indiana, somewhat of a catastrophe for a man of creature comforts who almost always opted to fly back to New York no matter how late a campaign stop ran or how nonsensical it was in the midst of a jampacked travel schedule. But Trump Force One had some sort of mechanical problem, so there he would stay.
He rolled through a phone interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which he told the paper that he was looking for a “fighter skilled in hand-to-hand-combat” as a running mate. Christie and Gingrich, he said, were “two extraordinary warriors.” Chemistry was important, too, which, he said also gave those two men a boost. “You either have it or you don’t. I clearly have it with Chris and Newt.” As for Pence, he didn’t know him enough to judge how much of an extraordinary warrior he could be, or whether they had chemistry or not.
At about 10:00 pm. Donald called Christie, who was in a hotel in Washington. “Are you ready?” Donald asked his friend. “Ready for what?” Christie asked. “Are you ready?” Donald repeated. Christie didn’t want to play coy. He asked if Donald was offering him the nomination.
Donald hemmed and hedged. He said he had not made his final, final decision yet, but wanted to know if Christie was up for it, and if his wife, Mary Pat, would be willing to pick up some slack on the trail, since Melania wasn’t keen on campaigning. Donald ended the call by telling him to stay by his phone.
Donald hung up and made a call to his family, telling them that he liked Christie. He felt comfortable with him and knew he’d tear the skin off Hillary Clinton in the general election, and he needed someone who’d willingly, skillfully do that. His kids quickly hung up with their father and called Keith Schiller, Donald’s longtime bodyguard. They were all coming to Indiana to stage a vice presidential intervention.
THE NEXT morning, Donald, Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared, and Eric, along with campaign chair Paul Manafort, turned up in Indiana for breakfast at the Pences’ home. Jared privately told Pence that he needed to turn on the charm for his father-in-law. Otherwise the gig would slip through his hands before the dishes were even cleared from the table that morning.
The meal went well enough that it buoyed Donald a bit, swaying him slightly from the assuredness he’d felt the night before. Still, that evening, he told Fox News’s Bret Baier that multiple contenders, maybe even as many as four, were still in the mix, though he was debating between two. “I tell you, Chris Christie is somebody I have liked for a long time,” he told the host. “He is a total professional. He’s a good guy, by the way. A lot of people don’t understand that.” He added that their meeting had gone “really well.” “He has always been very respectful to me and really appreciates what I’ve done politically,” he said. “And we had a great meeting.”
At the outset, he said he would announce his decision by Friday. Adding to the pressure, Friday happened to be the deadline for Pence to decide whether or not he would continue with his reelection bid. By Thursday evening, Donald was agitated and uncertain about Pence, chafing at being locked into making a choice under deadline. Jared reminded him that he was choosing a guy who’d make the ticket strongest and bridge the divide within the Republican Party, not a best buddy. Manafort agreed with Jared, adding that he worried Christie wouldn’t be as easy to handle and reminding Donald of Christie’s own presidential ambitions. He couldn’t choose someone who wanted the role for himself. Never mind the fact that very often that is not the case; Donald heard them.
But he was still uneasy. He didn’t know what to do, but his family was pushing him in Pence’s direction. That evening, a terrorist drove a nineteen-ton rental truck onto the sidewalk of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, after the annual Bastille Day fireworks, killing eighty-six people and injuring dozens more. Out of respect for the victims, the campaign initially decided to delay the announcement. But Donald grew restless, and a little before ten o’clock in the morning, he tweeted out his pick: “I am pleased to announce that l have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 AM.”
When he talked to Christie, Donald told the governor that Pence just looked like a vice president. I have to take him, he said. He told him that if he won, any other job he wanted, all he’d have to do was ask for it.
LONG BEFORE the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Jared reached out to two speechwriters, Matthew Scully and John McConnell. These guys were the real deal; they worked closely with President George W. Bush in crafting his speeches, including the addresses he gave after the September 11 attacks. Jared wanted them to come up with a bang-up speech for his stepmother-in-law to give onstage at the RNC. Melania was such a reticent campaigner that she hardly ever accompanied her husband on his many campaign stops. She had a young son at home in New York whose life she wanted to keep as normal as possible. She still tried to pick Barron up at school as often as possible, though that grew increasingly difficult as time wore on, given the traffic her Secret Service detail caused at dismissal time. None of this politics stuff had been her idea; she liked their life, and why shouldn’t she? Most of it was guarded within their gilded doors and planes and homes on golf courses either bearing her husband’s name or at which he was the boss. She was a former model, so the attention wasn’t the problem. But she was not a native English speaker, and she saw how the press ripped her husband to shreds every day. No one in their right mind would be happy about throwing themselves to those wolves.
Jared wanted her rare appearance to be a hit. Not only would this boost the campaign, appealing to Americans who might have been turned off by the candidate’s multiple marriages and treatment of women, but also maybe if she knocked it out of the park, she would be more willing to jump into the political fray more often. She polled well, and with Trump going up in the coming months against the first female general election candidate, having a woman on the team whom people liked, who softened and defended her husband, couldn’t hurt. McConnell and Scully agreed. About a month before the convention, they shot her over a draft. A response never came.
Instead, Melania turned to people within her inner circle to rip the draft to shreds. It did not sound like her. She wanted to essentially start fresh. One of the people who helped was Meredith McIver, a former professional ballet dancer and Trump employee who had helped write Donald’s book Think Like a Billionaire. A handful of others had their hands in it as well.
None of them stopped Melania from getting onstage on the Monday night of the convention to deliver an address to 23 million viewers that stole entire phrases and themes from a speech Michelle Obama had given years earlier at a Democratic National Convention.
Immediately the Trump campaign spun into damage control mode. It was nearly impossible to understand how this colossal, and entirely avoidable, mistake could have slipped by so many people. How could a gang who couldn’t protect the potential First Lady from not straight-up ripping off a former First Lady’s speech word-for-word be trusted to run a winning campaign, let alone protect the United States of America? Melania Trump was barely offstage before journalists figured out that much of her speech was borrowed.
It took little more time before the finger-pointing within the Trump campaign began. On Tuesday morning, Ivanka and Jared blew off steam in their hotel gym, as did a number of other campaign officials. Jared walked up to one official who was pedaling idly on a stationary bike as he tried to catch up on the rest of the headlines, as if anyone was talking about anything other than Melania-gate, and for a brief moment forget about the whole thing. “You know, this was all Manafort’s fault,” he told the official, who questioned why it was Manafort’s responsibility or duty to proofread the candidate’s wife’s speech and make sure she hadn’t plagiarized it from Michelle Obama. A month later, Manafort was fired.
IN THE process of figuring out who the campaign should bring in to replace Manafort, members of the team knew they had to find someone who could right a ship that, by that point, was foundering. The whole tone of the Republican National Convention was dour, downtrodden, and fearful. By contrast, the Democratic Convention felt like the shining city on a hill in which most Americans would prefer to live, regardless of how realistic or euphemistic it was. Donald was entangled in public feuds with a former beauty pageant contestant who said he’d made unkind remarks about her weight and the Khans, a Gold Star Muslim family who criticized the Trump campaign’s rhetoric at the DNC.
His poll numbers dipped. They needed a new jolt. Jared started asking his friends and campaign advisers close to his father-in-law for options. Ivanka knew that bringing a woman on might help with the optics, even if, as a fairly obvious political calculation, it would likely be met with snickering. Ultimately, Jared believed no one would run the campaign better than he would, he had been the de facto campaign manager for months anyway, but he agreed with his wife. He started asking around for names of women to whom he could give the title of campaign manager, though, she would mostly just be going out on TV, and talking like the campaign manager. He would still call the shots. The people he asked were gobsmacked. What woman in her right mind would come on board, knowing that she was getting a fake job to make Donald look good while Jared was the one actually running the show? He wouldn’t tell her that, he’d reply.
It was under those conditions that, not long after, Kellyanne Conway joined the campaign, officially becoming the first female campaign manager in a general election bid in the history of the United States.
ON MONDAY, September 19, the Secret Service officially started protecting Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and their children. Her brothers hadn’t yet received protection.
Her father had received his detail nearly ten months earlier, going with the Secret Service code name Mogul. Since the call signs within a First Family all begin with the same first letter, the rest of the Trumps fell in line with M names, as well. This naming tradition, which dates back to President Harry Truman, has since its inception sometimes been a way for commanders in chief to live out their fantasies, a game of high-stakes make-believe in which the most powerful men in the world get to try on a name to match the image of themselves they wished were true. Truman, for instance, decided to be called General, though he had only been a captain in World War 1. The Kennedys’ names all referred to Camelot. The Obamas stuck with Renegade and Renaissance.
But the point of the practice is much more significant than fantasy fulfillment. The call signs are used in an emergency, when protection enacts continuity of operation plans. If there is a crisis, it’s safer to say “We have Mogul” than “We have Donald Trump,” particularly if the Secret Service is operating on unsecure communications lines. But the Secret Service does not come up with these names themselves. Family members are given a series of names from the White House Communications Agency from which each protectee can choose.
Melania settled on Muse. Ivanka landed on Marvel. Her brothers received their details later, but Eric, a spectacular shot, chose Marksman, and Don Jr., for obvious reasons, picked Mountaineer. From the start, Ivanka was keen on the idea, of security protecting her and her young family; part of it had to do with the aura it gave her as a political power player. In Washington, at least, the presence of a detail, the men with earpieces and the black SUVs, is a status symbol. It’s the swamp equivalent to a bona fide entourage in Hollywood.
The man assigned to head Ivanka’s initial detail, it just so happens, was nicknamed Hollywood by his Secret Service colleagues and former protectees. He loved to make small talk about designers and celebrities and what clothes everyone was wearing. Instantly he fell into step with the family. He had just spent years as an integral member of First Lady Michelle Obama’s detail, so he was not only sensitive to protecting a family managing children not necessarily of Washington, and also understood the intricacies of working with a female protectee. It is not exactly comfortable, for either party, to have a male Secret Service member accompany a woman protectee to a gynecologist appointment, for instance, or a Pilates class. Hollywood, though, had spent years learning how to make it more palatable and less intrusive. He understood the importance of keeping his protectees’ public and personal lives separate, and immediately deflected attention from them enough so that they were able to take weekend trips or observe Shabbat without cameras snapping photos of them at every turn.
Ivanka, for her part, had spent a lifetime surrounded by live-in help. Many members of First Families past have never had nannies and housekeepers and bodyguards around. But for Ivanka, having people around whose sole job was to serve and protect her was a way of life that had been ingrained in her since she was born. This part of the transition suited her just fine.
It helped that the communication between Jared and Ivanka and their detail was open. From the get~go, they were honest with their detail about the possibility of their moving to Washington, which helped the Secret Service come up with a plan from the beginning. They instantly welcomed the detail into their lives, and members of their detail grew quite fond of the couple. When they visited the Kushner family home in New Jersey to observe the Jewish High Holy Days, Jared would recommend places nearby for the detail to grab a good dinner or a drink at the bar. (He surprised them by picking semi-cool dive bars that none of the Secret Service men could believe Jared himself had actually been to, though he insisted that he had.)
And as the Trump-Kushners gravitated more to the five-star hotel and private-plane end of the spectrum, a place on their detail became one of the more desirable assignments in the administration. In administrations past, the plum gigs had usually been on the First Lady’s Detail, known as the FLD. Jokingly, agents have dubbed the FLD “Fine Living and Dining,” because most First Ladies make so many trips to so many lovely places, go out to the best restaurants, and take a few vacations with their kids, with their detail in tow. This First Lady stuck closer to home, or homes, in the Trumps’ case. She rarely made public appearances or traveled anywhere other than to Trump Tower, Bedminster, New Jersey, or Mar-a-Lago. She didn’t socialize outside much, either.
Ivanka, on the other hand, more than made up for it. She crisscrossed the country, flitted about vacation spots at luxury resorts, frequented glitzy parties and hot restaurants, and stayed at several city and beach and country homes. In jest, some agents started referring to Ivanka’s detail as FLD Lite. Since the typical FLD didn’t exist in Trumplandia. Ivanka’s, more than anyone’s, was the assignment to get.
IVANKA’S SIBLINGS had a tougher time. Don Jr., “Marksman”, in particular chafed at the idea of protection, for several reasons. For starters, he was generally more private than his sister. He went to his home in the Catskills to fish and build bonfires and roam around on ATVs with his kids most weekends, and took off for days long hunting trips in the most remote parts of the Canadian bush, looking for moose, and ten-day boys’ fishing trips in Alaska. He wore flannel shirts and baseball caps, sometimes full-camp suits with neon orange vests. He flew mostly commercial, in coach, hopscotching from one flight to a small airport onto a tiny plane into a farflung town no one on the Upper East Side had ever heard of.
“I have friends that they only knew me as Don,” he’s said of the people he meets out upstate or in hunting camps. “They find out what my last name is and they’re like ‘I had no idea.’ You see them the next time and they’re trying to treat you differently and you’re like ‘what happened.’ Why should that make any difference? They’ll say, ‘You’re right.’ It’s a great equalizer.”
Some of the guys he’d met as just Don more than a decade before at shooting ranges upstate were law enforcement officers. Don, at the time, was just starting off in the business world at his father’s company, and these guys were just starting off in the police force, or at the lowest levels of the Secret Service. As Don’s role and responsibilities within the Trump Organization grew, so too did his shooting buddies. Some of the guys he’d gone shooting with and hung around with upstate were now assigned to follow him around and look after his family.
All of a sudden he went from no-last-name city boy Don to protectee. He was entitled to their service and responsible for pseudo-managing them. For a guy who’d spent years being uncomfortable with them treating him differently because of his last name, this crossed into prickly territory almost overnight.
That Don and his wife Vanessa had five kids living in New York City didn’t help matters. That meant that Vanessa had to manage essentially six different details, one for her and her husband and one for each of her children. Her phone lit up with texts and calls from agents, telling her one kid was a few minutes late to meet them on their designated street corner; asking if they would be on the north or south side of the street, what time she planned to leave the house for their drive upstate for the weekend, or who was staying late at school that afternoon. “It is literally overwhelming,” a former Secret Service agent explained. “Trying to manage all that with seasoned staff would be mind-numbing. To have someone who’s never done it before try and juggle all of that? Well, it would just be horrific.”
The head of the detail didn’t make it easier. Unlike Hollywood, he didn’t instantly mesh with the family. There were some preliminary conversations about a potential move to DC, so they put him in place as a temporary stopgap who might be replaced if the eventual relocation did happen. But it didn’t, and they ended up with what came to be a revolving door of agents and shifting dynamics. It was hard for them to get into a rhythm or find a comfortable relationship. “The whole thing has just been sloppy,” the former agent said. “The agents have been sloppy. The communication has been sloppy. Don’s back-and-forth attitude about them has been sloppy.” Hiring someone to help Vanessa coordinate might have made it easier, but the family didn’t spend the money.
It was simpler for Eric and his wife Lara. At the time, it was just the two of them. Lara got pregnant in the midst of the campaign, so for months there was no extra detail to coordinate, and they had forty weeks to plan for an eventual detail.
Tiffany’s detail was perhaps the laxest of all. One morning at the end of May, she walked in the front door of the Golden Pear in East Hampton, a tiny, teeming see-and-be-seen spot smack in the middle of Newtown Lane, the town’s little main street. The Golden Pear is some two hundred feet from the Monogram Shop, a little personalization store that, each year since the 2004 presidential election, has sold plastic cups labeled with campaign logos for each major party candidate, sold for $3 a piece to Hamptonites to display on their marble islands or pass around at their catered beach barbecues. The shop owner starts keeping track after the Super Tuesday primary contests in March, and at the close of business each day, she handwrites the total number of cups sold for each candidate on a piece of paper that she hangs in her store window.
Since this custom started, the cups had accurately predicted the winner, first with George W. Bush, then with Obama, twice. But this cycle, the cups, like every pollster and expert and analyst, got it wrong. Up until the weekend before Election Day, the Monogram Shop sold 4,946 for Hillary Clinton, and just 3,388 for Donald Trump.
Tiffany didn’t stop in to buy one of her father’s cups that morning, as Chelsea Clinton once did the year her mother ran against Barack Obama in the primaries. She chose to spend her $3, likely four times that, given their prices, on four iced coffees with her boyfriend. She dropped one iced coffee, and no one flinched or helped her pick it up, not even her detail, who was standing at a nearby table noticeably playing a game on his phone.
Most people didn’t notice her, besides the brief spill disturbance. She was in a baseball cap, and her security presence was so minimal that other customers readily came in and out both the front and back doors without so much as a glance. At one point someone did approach her, at which point she perked up, expecting some sort of comment, though who knows which way that would have gone. Her detail didn’t step in to block the approach, which would have been unnecessary, anyway, since the patron was simply asking if he could steal the extra chair at her table.
One customer that morning had also been in the Golden Pear one day in the 1990s when Chelsea Clinton and her several Secret Service agents walked in. “The world basically stopped,” he recalled. “For Tiffany, no one really noticed, and the people who did were intentionally looking the opposite direction.”
POLICE SHUT down Fifty-Seventh Street between Second and Third Avenues midmorning on Election Day for the Trump motorcade. The cars slid up in front of Public School 59, a school turned polling station for the day, just blocks from Trump Tower. Red and blue lights flashed against silver barricades set up to hold back the dozens of people who’d gathered outside to get a glimpse of the candidate and both cheer and boo him before he cast his ballot. He and Melania stepped out of a black SUV, Ivanka, Jared, and their daughter Arabella following seconds behind.
They all went down to the school’s gymnasium, filled at that point with agents in boxy suits and earpieces, cameramen clicking away, and reporters shouting questions at the Trumps. The family, in all neutrals, popped against the gym’s baby-blue-and banana-yellow walls. Apart from Donald, who’d walked in wearing only a suit jacket, all of them kept their coats on inside. Melania’s Balmain coat, with its wide lapel and gold buttons, hung on her shoulders, leaving her arms free. Ivanka kept her cream trench coat belted tightly over her black turtleneck and pants. Jared’s green utility coat remained over the gray V-neck he’d layered over blue button-down, black jeans, and white Common Project sneakers.
Ivanka approached the registration table first. “Here you go,” the lady behind the table told her. “What you’re going to do is fill out the ballot in one of the privacy booths behind you. When you’re done with that, you bring it to the scanner under the basketball net.” The woman asked Arabella if she wanted a sticker, and Ivanka smiled and brushed her daughter’s hair back as she thanked the woman. She picked up the ballot and showed it to her father. They looked eyes. This was really happening. Melania was next to approach the table, followed by Donald himself. Jared went up last. “Last name Kushner,” he told the woman.
Don Jr., his wife, Vanessa, and four of their five kids showed up to the same polling station a little while later.
Election Day happened to be Eric and Lara’s second wedding anniversary, and the two voted a few blocks south, at the Fifty-Third Street Public Library. Eric proudly took a photo of his filled-in ballot, and tweeted it out to his followers. It is, of course, illegal to take photos in the voting booth in New York, a fact that many of his nearly two million followers were quick to point out. He later deleted the tweet.
They all wound up back at Trump Tower. Don Jr. did a bunch of local radio hits. They made calls to supporters and took calls from busybodies wondering what the mood was like inside. By around five o’clock, when the first dismal round of returns started rolling in, the three eldest kids started calling in to local stations in battleground states to make a last push. Jared made calls to a few media friends. He asked one high-up executive at a major media organization who’d known Kushner both professionally and personally for years what he was hearing about Florida, which at that point was their last hope for any path to victory that night. The executive told him it didn’t look great, but what did he expect? “Did we get your support?” Jared asked. “No,” the executive told him. “No you did not.” Jared hung up and called Matt Drudge, another macher in the media circle he’d accumulated. The media had been off about the Trump campaign the whole time, Drudge told him. Wait until the next couple rounds of exit polls come out, he said. That’s when things could start to shift.
Since before five o’clock that morning, campaign officials had been huddled on the fifth floor of Trump Tower, essentially an expansive unfinished utility closet with concrete floors and no heat, which staffers in the early part of the campaign used as a makeshift headquarters. By the time the sun set that evening, dozens of people packed the room as then national field director Bill Stepien zeroed in on the campaign model, mostly focused on Florida, and Jared and Ivanka and Eric and Don began milling about, poring over maps and models and numbers coming in from their guys on the ground and officials in Florida feeding them what they knew. Donald was up in his triplex atop the tower until after eight o’clock, when he called Ivanka, asking where she was. He told her to leave the fifth floor and come up to the fourteenth, the official headquarters-and he would meet her there.
They looked like sardines, the lot of them. Donald, Melania, the kids, Pence, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Chris Christie, Mark Shot, the whole MAGA mod squad, stuffed into that corporate looking office, cramped around giant screens and projections and TV screens as campaigners explained the numbers coming in and the New York Times prediction needle shifted slightly in Donald’s direction. They stayed there until after eleven, when networks and wire services called Florida for him and the tide started turning in other battleground states. They took the executive elevator straight to the triplex, the family, the Pences, Conway, Christie and his son Andrew, Bannon, Stephen Miller, Priebus, Dave Bossie. The rest either stayed on the fourteenth floor or started to make their way a few blocks west to the victory party at the Midtown Hilton.
Miller sheepishly approached a few of them and told them he had prepared an exquisitely drafted concession speech. “What do we have on the victory speech?” someone asked Miller. “Bullet points,” he said.
So they pulled out a laptop, and Miller, Pence, Ivanka, Jared, Don, Eric, and Christie started writing. Ivanka pointed out that it would be a great opportunity to reach out to women, who undoubtedly would need it after watching the first female major party candidate lose. Maybe we can mention parental leave or child care credits, she suggested. “Vank,” Jared interrupted. “This isn’t the speech for that. We have plenty of time to get to that later.” The rest of the people around the table exchanged glances and took a breath. If anyone could say that to her, it was Jared. They were just glad he had.
Donald had been watching the returns on the small TV set up in the kitchen, repeatedly calling to check in on the victory speech he would have to give in a few hours. “We’re just polishing it!” they yelled to him, though, technically, there was not yet a fully formed speech to polish. “The truth is, we were cramming,” one of the people around the table said. “But we couldn’t let him know that.”
Once it became clear that things were going in his direction, the mood shifted to a mix of giddiness and shock. Jared threw his arm around Christie, saying “We did this.” Conway kept repeating, “Can you believe this?” Melania looked shocked, and mostly concerned with Barron, who seemed whip-tired on the couch. It was well after midnight at this point, and she focused on keeping him awake on the couch. Donald remained stoic, and Pence seemed a little more celebratory. Karen Pence, one observer noted, looked as though she were at a funeral.
The ride over to the Hilton took less than ten minutes. There they waited in a tiny holding area off to the side of the main stage. That’s when the Associated Press officially called the race for Donald Trump, at about 2:30 am. Huma Abedin’s name flashed on the screen of Kellyanne’s iPhone, which she had on silent. A day earlier, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, had emailed Conway with Abedin’s number. If Donald should win, he’d written, they would call him within fifteen minutes of the AP’s call. Abedin would be her point of contact.
Pence had already gone onstage to address the crowd, telling them that they were sure they had won, but were waiting for a Clinton concession and an official call. After Donald took the phone and accepted Clinton’s concession and congratulations, Pence walked over to his wife Karen and told her that they’d done it. They’d won.
“I know,” she told him coldly.
“Well, how about a kiss?”
“Mike,” she said, turning to him, “you got what you wanted.”
DONALD, NOW officially the president-elect, walked onstage just before the clock struck three in the morning to talk for about fifteen minutes. “To Melania and Don and Ivanka and Eric and Tiffany and Barron, I love you and I thank you,” he said about halfway through his speech, after thanking his parents and siblings. “Especially for putting up with all of those hours. This was tough. This was tough. This political stuff is nasty, and it is tough, so I want to thank my family very much. Really fantastic. Thank you all. Thank you all. Lara, unbelievable job. Unbelievable. Vanessa, thank you. Thank you very much. What a great group.” Incidentally, and accidentally, he forgot to thank Jared, the de facto shadow campaign manager, a body man meets yes-man, bound to him in law and desire to make their families as rich and powerful, at least outwardly so, as possible.
They got a few hours of sleep before Jared started making calls to close friends and campaign associates. Many of them had told him that November 9 would be a day of reckoning. They’d spent months warning him that people thought of him as a psychopath for supporting this campaign, or at best an asshole. They drilled into his head that no one was going to want to talk to him after the election, and that he’d face a steep uphill climb to rebuild his reputation and that of his family. What they called his “big real estate reboot” would begin on the morning after Election Day. “Prepare yourself,” they would say. “You’re going to get back to earth, and it’s not going to be the same place you left it.” His response to all of it was a quiet, repetitive “I know.”
That morning played out differently. The big real estate reboot was scrapped. They had all been so woefully wrong. He and Ivanka had prayed for the right outcome in the election, he told his friends, and that his father-in-law was going to be a great president.
Days earlier, on the Saturday before the election, after sundown when they could once again drive, they’d hopped in a car toward Cambria Heights in Queens, a largely black middle-class neighborhood where, on Francis Lewis Boulevard, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh grand rebbe of the Lubavitcher Hasidic dynasty, was buried alongside his father-in-law in 1994. The site of his tomb is known as the Ohel, the Hebrew word for tent, referring to the structure built around the grave. It is open day and night. Observers and believers have been making pilgrimages up to the Old Montefiore Cemetery in droves for the last near-quarter century because the rebbe, it is believed, will deliver those who visit the Ohel to God. A place to ask for blessings and scrawl prayers on the provided notepaper and toss them into the grave.
It was uncommonly warm that November Saturday, hanging in the mid-fifties even after dark. Jared turned up without a jacket, in a black cashmere sweater, flatfront khakis, and a yarmulke, Ivanka in a slanted black beret, belted coat, and bare legs. In the Ohel, they dropped their prayers into the grave before making their way back home. Friends joked that they weren’t sure exactly what Jared meant when he referred to the “right outcome,” and whether their prayers had in fact been answered or rebuffed.
AFTER JARED made a round of phone calls, he and Ivanka took their eldest children to school, as they often did, at Ramaz, the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school on the Upper East Side. They were a bit frazzled and tired but buzzing, and more apparent, they were a bit late. The school has a separate elevator to take parents up to preschool classrooms, and because they were running behind that morning, the elevator had already gone upstairs. So they waited. They were sitting ducks in a fishbowl. One by one, parents approached the couple, offering their congratulations. The win had stunned them, they told her. It was remarkable. She must be so happy, so proud. Wow, others offered. “She beamed,” one parent remembered of lvanka. “Graciously, she accepted every last word.”
UNTIL THEN, parents at the school and members of their uptown shul had been split on the couple and their involvement in the campaign. On the one hand, the campaign had ignited a new wave of anti-Semitism and hundreds of dog whistles to white nationalists, alarming the Jewish community. After the president tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with a Star of David and a pile of cash, one of Jared’s own employees, Observer culture writer Dana Schwartz, wrote an open letter addressed to Jared in his paper, asking him to address the anti-Semitic vitriol spreading in his father-in-law’s name that “applies equally to your wife and your daughter.”
“Mr. Kushner, I ask you,” she wrote, “what are you going to do about this?”
Jared wrote his own op-ed in response, under the headline “The Donald Trump I Know.” He defended his father-in-law as “tolerant” and said that “the from the heart reactions of this man are instinctively pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.” He invoked the story of his grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, as proof that he knew “the difference between actual, dangerous intolerance versus these labels that get tossed around in an effort to score political points.”
Some of Jared’s own cousins, reigniting a more than decade old family feud that had been punctuated by Jared’s father getting sent to federal prison, took issue with this defense. “I have a different takeaway from my Grandparents’ experience in the war,” Marc Kushner wrote in a Facebook post shortly after, linking to the op-ed. “it is our responsibility as the next generation to speak up against hate. Antisemitism or otherwise.” Another first cousin, Jacob Schulder, was harsher. In a comment on Marc’s post, he wrote: “That my grandparents have been dragged into this is a shame. Thank you Jared for using something sacred and special to the descendants of Joe and Rae Kushner to validate the sloppy manner in which you’ve handled this campaign. Kudos to you for having gone this far; no one expected this. But for the sake of the family name, which may have no meaning to you but still has meaning to others, please don’t invoke our grandparents in vain just so you can sleep better at night. It is self serving and disgusting.”
Jared’s parents, Charlie and Seryl, were supportive of the Trump campaign, hosting a couple of open houses at their Long Branch, New Jersey, beach house on Donald’s behalf throughout the campaign. It wasn’t an option not to throw their support behind Donald; in effect, that would mean not throwing their support behind Jared. They were proud of what he was doing, and whatever he needed, they would do. That their son was effectively running a presidential campaign gave them enough naches for them to put their own distaste at some of the campaign nonsense and rhetoric aside.
Just grab em by the …
The Access Hollywood tape, for instance, rippled their household. But what rankled them wasn’t Donald’s language, that he’d boasted about using his special privilege as a celebrity to grab women by the genitals, or kissing a married woman he wooed with furniture shopping. It was that their son had walked to Trump Tower the day after the story broke to help handle the fallout. It was a Saturday, and their son shouldn’t have been working. That, they told him, wasn’t quite keeping Shabbat.
WHAT DIVIDED the community most unfolded over the summer of 2016. As the campaign worked with the Republican National Committee to put together the schedule for its convention in Cleveland, the Trump-Kushners threw out an idea. Why not ask Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who’d shepherded Ivanka through her conversion process years earlier and led the congregation the Trump-Kushners attended in New York, to deliver an invocation, an opening prayer to kick off the convention? Lookstein had commanded the pulpit at the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, or KJ, for decades, taking over the gig from his father. Israel’s Bar-Ilan University had granted him an honorary doctorate in recognition for the “influential role he has played in deepening Jewish values and heritage among American Jewry.”
The rabbi agreed, a personal decision that he said he made to honor her request, out of respect for her and their relationship. In the lead-up to the convention, he settled on an invocation that prayed for the welfare of the government, thanking God for translating into reality the biblical command to “proclaim liberty throughout the land for all the inhabitants thereof” and for the constitutional government that fostered “the American ideals of democracy, freedom, justice and equality for all, regardless of race, religion or national origin.” He would ask God to help us form a government that would “protect us with sound strategy and strength; which will unite use with words of wisdom and acts of compassion.”
By all measures, it was a prayer most Americans, particularly those concerned by some of the campaign rhetoric and policies taking shape and gang-who-couldn’t-shoot-straight-ness of it all, would have been heartened to hear. On a subtler level, it seemed almost like a troll of the candidate’s position on immigration and concerns over his tolerance for people who looked and lived differently than he did.
Of course, that is not why the Trump-Kushners asked their rabbi to participate. “Jared and Ivanka felt like this was simple, a way to honor their rabbi with whom they had a close relationship,” a member of the congregation recalled. But the simple things often turned complicated, in an instant, for everyone attached to the campaign, Javanka included.
The Trump campaign hastily sent a list of speakers, including all four adult Trump children, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, former underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr., and Lookstein. No one told the rabbi that his name would be included on a publicized list, which means he had no time to inform the campaign officials that he was not, in fact, giving a speech at the convention. He was simply offering a prayer.
The distinction may have made a difference to his congregants. Or maybe it wouldn’t have, given the immediate backlash he faced once the announcement went public. Congregants started an online petition, signed by nearly 850 people, condemning the rabbi for lending his blessing to Donald Trump.
Lookstein reconsidered. In a letter emailed to his congregants and friends, he wrote that “the whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended.” Politics, he added, divide people, and he had spent his live uniting. “In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation.” Some guilt did wash over Ivanka and Jared for the trouble they had caused the rabbi and for the controversy kicked up in their community. At the same time, they felt like they were getting hung out to dry and didn’t see this as their fault in the slightest. “An amateur level of organization created a problem that did not need to exist,” one person who was part of the planning said. But friends and members of their congregation whispered that they should have known better. “Part of this was that when you’ve become a bigger fucking deal,” one congregant mused, “everything you do becomes a bigger fucking deal, and for some reason they didn’t catch on to that.
SOME PEOPLE in the Trump-Kushners’ community, KJ members, Ramaz parents, people who went to the Modern Orthodox yeshiva school that Jared attended in Paramus, New Jersey, thought it was a big fucking deal to have one of their own become a big fucking deal. On Saturday mornings throughout the campaign, as the rabbis spoke or cantors chanted, congregants would whisper that it was somewhat of a comfort to have him in the candidate’s ear. He was a guy they davened with, who grew up the way they did, with the same kinds of values and priorities they were all taught in school and at home and in temple on Shabbat. “It is still someone who we grew up with, who’s close to someone who may be the president,” one acquaintance from high school explained at the time. “That is never bad.”
Many agreed, however, that if they had their druthers, and it was up to them to choose a guy in their community who would be the one so close to and advising a US presidential candidate, Jared would not have ranked high on their list. The consensus was that, without a doubt, there were smarter, more accomplished guys in his high school class alone who would have been perfect geniuses in that role. With Jared, the feeling was more along the lines of, Well, I guess he’ll do.
“He would not be the one who you’d be like, ‘Oh, thank God he’s there,’ but it’s a comfort,” one of his high school classmates said. “He wouldn’t be a firstor secondor third-round draft pick. But, great, we have someone there. He’s totally solid and fine, maybe more savvy than smart.”
IN TERMS of his relationship with Jewish community leaders beyond his own New York, New Jersey bubble, many influential members corresponded with Kushner often, voicing their concerns and urging him to push certain policy positions. They were hearted by his father-in-law’s rhetoric when it came to his support for Israel. And for all the attention Steve Bannon got for the alt-right, white nationalist, neo-Nazi agenda pushed on Breitbart News, the website he helmed, he was an unabashed hardliner on Israel.
Jewish organizations could tell that Kushner was overwhelmed and overworked. His father-in-law had tasked the guy, at the time a thirty-five-year-old real estate developer who’d never worked for a place he or his family didn’t own, with solving Middle East peace, along with all of his other campaign duties. It is true that he had a close familial tie to Israel; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stayed at the Kushner family home when he came to the States, sometimes sleeping in Jared’s childhood bed during his stays. But years of political know-how and understanding of an issue so complex that it has eluded seasoned diplomats for decades isn’t like conjunctivitis. It doesn’t rub off on shared pillows, nor is it picked up in conversations with a father’s friends over Shabbat dinner.
So Jared frequently relied on feedback and input from these organizations, though it was clear he barely had the time to do so. “He’d reply to emails with letters instead of words, always very short, almost like he was running around on a BlackBerry with one hand tied,” one Zionist organization leader recalled. “It was never a substantive discussion. It was more just trying to keep his head above water and get done what he absolutely had to get done.”
He did engage with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the all-powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, throughout the campaign, particularly after his father-in-law hit the skids with the committee. Donald had particularly strained things when he said he would refrain from taking sides in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians so he could fairly, credibly serve as a neutral negotiator. That, of course, is a third rail for organizations like AIPAC, particularly for a presumptive Republican nominee to take. The group’s nerves were already frayed after eight years of the Obama administration, which many perceived as a dark period of the relationship between the American and Israeli government. They would need stronger assurances of support from the campaign, particularly given its questionable ties to anti-Semitism and white nationalists, if they were going to get anywhere together.
Kushner saw AIPAC’s annual conference, an event held at the end of March 2016, as a place for him to both make good and make his commitments to Israel clear. The initial plan was that Donald would do a question-and-answer session at the event, but it soon got scrapped in favor of a speech. Jared suggested that Donald use a teleprompter, which, given the typical freewheeling, meandering style he naturally gravitates toward, was simple self-preservation. The stakes here were too high to let an ill-informed, breezy throwaway line turn the whole community against the campaign for good. Jared also urged his father-in-law to use the speech to lay out specifics that the audience would eat up. The remarks could be a proof point that Donald would not only charm them and entertain them but knew a little bit about what he was talking about here and, most importantly, in fact, unequivocally have their back.
Jared solicited the advice of Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Dermer had talked through what could happen with the United Nations after the election with the Clinton campaign, and he wanted to share the Israeli government’s point of view with both sides, in language he felt comfortable with. At first he sent over talking points Donald could use for the Q&A, but Jared requested a phone call once he knew the campaign had to plan for a speech.
On the call, Dermer made it clear that he was doing this as a service for all campaigns. He talked for a solid hour about the UN, about Iran, about hard lines and language that was very important to Israelis, and about many people who would be in the audience that day. It was a solid foundation from which Jared and campaign officials could draw in drafting a speech, based on what fit in with their own agendas and strategies and broader foreign policy goals.
The truth was that those broader agendas, strategies, and goals, particularly when it came to foreign policy, were primordial at best at that stage. And so having Dermer spell out a fully fleshed-out policy was like getting your hands on the answer key the night before a final exam that was worth 50 percent of your grade at the end of the semester. As Dermer laid out, piece by piece, bit by bit, the position of the Israeli government and the ways in which they wanted to hear a US commander in chief relate to them and address the rest of the Middle East, someone was clearly taking notes.
The next day Jared sent a draft of the speech to the billionaire casino owner, GOP kingmaker, and major Jewish philanthropist magnate Sheldon Adelson, who promptly sent it over to Dermer. The text Dermer read was like a transcript of what he had told Jared in their phone call, right down to the jokes. It was basically wholesale theft.
Jared continued to polish over the weekend. He loved it. When Jared called Dermer back to give him a preview, it seemed that the campaign had used what Dermer said in their phone call almost exactly, adding a few familiar Trumpian rhetorical flourishes, a bunch of believe me’s and plugs for his Art of the Deal. It was Dermer’s substance, almost verbatim, put through a Trump Speak machine and fed into a teleprompter for him to read to the crowd.
The speech went through three main takeaways, all of which were very much in line with the AIPAC bent. First, his priority would be to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” which he called “catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.” He laid out an uncharacteristically specific plan for what he, as president, would do and the specific problems he said the deal failed to address. Second, he vowed to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Third, he ripped into what he called “the utter weakness and incompetence of the United Nations,” which, he said, was not a friend to freedom, nor to the United States, and surely not to Israel. He vowed to end the discussions swirling about an attempt to bring a Security Council resolution on the terms of an eventual agreement between Israel and Palestine. “The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto, which I will use as president 100 percent.” Next, he told the audience that Palestinians need to stop treating those who murder Jews as heroes and lionizing hatred in textbooks and mosques.
But despite his son-in-law’s warnings, the candidate couldn’t help himself. He could read an audience, that was his one natural skill, so he threw them some red meat. “With President Obama in his final year” he began, before interrupting himself with a “Yay!” Like any performer worth his salt, he paused to let the crowd applaud and roar. He chuckled to himself, his lips turning upward in a grin, before he turned his head to take in the crowd.
This was what he fed off, what set off that little clinking in his brain, like a junkie getting a first taste before opening up wide. He heard the clapping and he wanted more. So he careened off the teleprompter and spiraled straight into rally mode, straight down into the mordancy that played so well to his base.
He kept pausing and shaking his head as the rush settled into thought bubbles. “He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me,” he said to more hoots and hollers. “And you know it and you know it better than anybody.”
His audience didn’t necessarily disagree with these sentiments. But members of AIPAC’s executive team started to scramble. Candidates didn’t use this event to slam and attack other politicians. AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus opened the next morning’s events, during which Netanyahu was scheduled to speak, with an apology for the rhetoric Donald had run off with the night before. Barely swallowing back tears, Pinkus indicated that the candidate had violated the nonpartisan spirit the event tried to retain.
The hubbub around Donald’s comments overshadowed the one line he had been sure would get him into AIPAC’s good graces. “I love the people in the room. I love Israel,” Donald had ended with the day earlier. “My daughter, Ivanka, is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby. In fact, it could be happening right now, which would be very nice as far as I’m concerned.”
A WEEK before the election, in the midst of this all, Ivanka turned in the manuscript for her second book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, to her publisher. The book was a marketing dream. The confluence of the company she’d built under her own name and the near-constant attention on her speaking about paid family leave and child care under the glare of the political campaign made a book like this the gold standard for the term “brand tie-in.”
Ivanka had spent nearly a decade selling jewelry to women, and then clothes and shoes and handbags and accessories, and later, the notion of a put-together working woman who, if she doesn’t “have it all,” wants to read about the interview-ready outfits and time-saving tips and recipes and workouts and ways to ask for a more flexible work schedule she’ll need to get close to having at least some of it. Her brand website turned into a mecca for that kind of aspirational content, with blog posts about packed lunches and spring looks for the office, most of which let readers shop corresponding looks from the Ivanka Trump brand directly from each post.
She had announced the book publicly in June, in a video message posted on her website. “So last year, I shared some pretty exciting news, that I was pregnant with baby number three, little baby Theodore, and, today, I have some amazing news to share with you as well.” She held up a cutout of a white number 4 affixed to a stick, biting her perfectly berry-stained lips, as if the secret would spill out if she didn’t physically contain it with her teeth. True Ivanka Trump fans, the kinds of women who religiously read her website or leave comments on her Instagram photos praising her children or cataloging her outfits, would recognize this trick. When she announced her pregnancy with Theodore, again, in a video posted on her site, her first child, Arabella, had held a number 1, her second, Joseph, a number 2, and Ivanka herself held a gold number 3 up to her belly.
“Okay, so I’m not pregnant with baby number four,” she said, doubling over her own black-and-white printed shift dress as she chuckled at her own joke. “But I do have another exciting project in the works, and it is also a labor of love. It’s a book.”
The idea had been born two years earlier, when she launched her first #WomenWhoWork initiative. “I was advised by many of the top creative agencies to lose the word, ‘work,’” she wrote in her announcement. “One after another, they suggested that the idea of ‘women and work’ wasn’t aspirational and wouldn’t resonate with a millennial audience. I disagreed. If you ask me, there’s nothing more incredible than a woman who’s in charge of her own destiny, and working daily to make her dreams a reality.
“Over the last two years, my team and I have been laser-focused on making IvankaTrump.com the destination for professional women. Our site is home to inspiring thought leaders, smart content and solution-oriented tips curated for women who work. Today, I’m beyond excited to announce the next evolution of our message, a book.
When she took the idea to Portfolio, her publisher, half a year earlier, it wasn’t a hard sell. At the time, they had no inkling that she would be turning in the pages after more than a year stumping for one of the most polarizing political candidates in American history. None of them believed that Donald would make it beyond a few primaries, certainly not to the general election. To them, he was a fringe candidate who had no shot at winning. They bought her book giving little thought to all of that. They’d market it as a liberal-leaning C-list celebrity version of a career book.
They ran into some bumps even before the prospect of a President Trump dawned on them. Ivanka worked with a writer who the publisher thought was really good, but Ivanka reworked everything herself. She would go through the pages early in the morning, before walking over to Trump Tower or traveling with her father to a campaign stop, typing away on her laptop as she got her hair blown out in her apartment, Jared bringing her coffee as the nannies got the kids ready for school. From the pages they got to read early on, what came through to the publishers was her privileged perspective. For instance, there was no mention of the two women who took care of her own children until the last few pages, in the acknowledgments. After she thanked her agent, the contributors to her book, her sisters-in-law, her mother, her friends, her colleagues, and the two nannies who helped raise her and her brothers, she acknowledged Liza and Xixi, “who are helping me raise my own children,” thanking them “for being part of our extended family and enabling me to do what I do.”
Mostly, the publishers felt that the book was devoid of emotion. They pumped and pumped her to add personal, relatable details about her relationship with her parents, “to make her seem like she had a pulse,” one person involved with the book explained. “Like she was a human and had emotions.” They took every shred of what Ivanka and her writer were willing to give, which wasn’t much. Ivanka was always unfailingly polite and gracious, though, and so intense in her work ethic that they were surprised every time they visited her in her Trump Tower office (she never ventured to their offices; they always came to her).
The real trouble came once Donald had won the nomination. They had to change their entire marketing calculus, because the demographic they had thought the book would appeal to when they bought it, young women in their twenties and thirties living on the coasts, now staunchly opposed Ivanka’s family and everything her father’s campaign stood for. So they had to start making inroads into a whole new audience in the middle of the country, an audience that, frankly, the publisher did not know how to reach or market to.
They recalibrated and, once they had their hands on the manuscript, tried bit by bit to turn it into the best book it could possibly be. Ivanka asked Mika Brzezinski, who had her own “Know Your Value” brand already launched, to review the book. At the time, the Morning Joe host was on okay enough terms with her father, and she helped Ivanka get his attention on women’s-related issues throughout the campaign, to varying degrees of success. Ivanka genuinely wanted to help the cause, she believed; if a few words about her book meant that the future First Daughter would put her efforts there in the White House, then fine.
A week later, Donald won the election, and the entire calculus changed again. Ivanka asked the same favor of Judge Jeanine Pirro, the colorful Fox News host and longtime friend of her father’s. Jeanine’s ex-husband, the businessman and lobbyist Al Pirro, had served as Donald’s power broker in Westchester County in the 1990s, and the three of them would play golf and fly on Trump’s plane down to Mar-a-Lago together. (Donald could never get any work done on those flights down to Palm Beach. “I can’t pay attention,” he’d tell friends traveling with him. “How can you stop looking at her legs? Have you ever seen sexier legs?”). This was before Al Pirro got locked up for conspiracy and tax evasion, a turn of events that went on to haunt Judge Jeanine’s career as district attorney in Westchester and her onetime bid for a seat in the US Senate. But it made it so she could staunchly, spiritedly advocate for her old pal in her televised monologues each Saturday night, and say yes to writing a few kind words about his daughter’s forthcoming book. “Who knows more about success than Ivanka Trump?” she wrote. “Buy it and learn something!”
ON THE day after the election, most of the staff in Portfolio’s offices were zombies. Some cried all day, taking turns wiping their faces in the bathroom. To some, it was a disaster. They were in complete despair about having this book on their hands. But other executives were elated. What they’d bought as a famous-reality-star-meets-buiIder-meets-fashion-executive-meets-mom and wife, how-to was now something entirely different. They had the First Daughter’s book. By accident. And it was scheduled to come out just about one hundred days after her father would take office. “We never thought of canceling,” the person who worked on the book said. “There was the chance for it to be a big hit, and you’d have to be on a suicide mission to cancel the book by a First Daughter, even in this case.”
The looming issue was how to do press around the book. Ivanka had not yet determined what her role would be once she and Jared moved to Washington. She would be some kind of an adviser to her father and his administration. That was never the question. What was at issue was how she would describe her position in marketing the book. She hadn’t intended to officially join the administration until ethics concerns made it nearly impossible for her not to. So how could she go out before she herself answered those questions and have a book publisher try and field the issue, thorny as it was?
The day before Christmas she called the publisher directly, saying she was not sure what her role would be, whether it was going to be official or unofficial, or how she would describe it to people. She wondered if they could move the publication date from March back to May. As it happened, the book was set to go out the following Monday. The wheels were so far in motion that in any other case, it would have been absurd to try to stop them at that point. But this wasn’t another author looking for a favor; it was the incoming First Daughter. They pushed the book back. (Not long after the book was meant to come out, lvanka announced her official role within the administration, as assistant to the president, advising him on issues related to American families, female entrepreneurship, and workforce development. As an official government employee, she could not market the book herself, which meant no interviews, no tour, no readings, no appearances. Before her attorneys and White House lawyers came down on it, every network had been fighting to get her for the book. “The lineup would have made Princess Diana jealous, had she promoted a book,” one publishing executive said. They had to scrap it all, though. And the reviews, one after the next, panned the book, for what it said, for what it left out, and for what people read between the lines. “She didn’t ruin the year,” the executive said, “but it was a bloodbath.”)
IN THE days following the election, foreign leaders and diplomats flooded the switchboard at Trump Tower. There were protocols for how these calls were supposed to be received and made, of course. Many of them were outlined in the dozens and dozens of binders that members of the Trump transition team had put together leading up to November. Few of the transition officials imagined that these binders would actually get put to use. Donald Trump was such a long shot that their work was more of a just-in-case than a these-will-almost-certainly-help-inform-the-next-president. Even fewer imagined that the binders would be picked apart and summarily chucked in the trash once Vice President-elect Pence took over the transition. Ivanka and Jared, along with her siblings and their father and Pence and his allies, had a deep suspicion of any materials put together by anyone connected to Chris Christie. They were also so disengaged from the pre-Election Day transition work that they had their hand in none of the preparation that the professionals-people with real governmental experience, with actual expertise in national security and on the economy and intergovernmental relations and intelligence operations and diplomacy and how the bureaucracy in Washington functions and what all of these areas need to run properly every day, put together. The Trumps, who worked out of their dad’s office in a building bearing their last name, knew nothing about any of that. What they did know was that, deep down, they trusted only themselves. Anything prepared without their input, particularly by people who they believed were loyal to Christie, who was not always a friend of the family well, how could it be used?
Transition officials remember Ivanka coming down to the floor of Trump Tower that housed the transition operations to inspect what was going on. She and Jared seemed paranoid to staffers, worried that officials would be more loyal to Christie than to “the family,” which is how, people on the transition said, they referred to themselves, “Like a mafia movie,” one joked. People gossiped about overhearing “the family” talking about burning the place down and starting from scratch.
“They came into this with chips on their shoulder and grudges that a little seasoning and worldliness tells you that they shouldn’t bring to the party,” one transition official who was fired soon after the election recalled. “They brought it to the party anyway.”
It became abundantly clear once foreign leaders began to call. Transition officials had prepared a call book, laying out which calls they knew were going to come in, how to prepare for them, and which to prioritize, based on the traditional protocol surrounding these early days of the transition. All of it got tossed aside. It is unclear whether this was totally intentional; perhaps the Trump operation, as it existed after the election, was simply too overwhelmed and understaffed to keep up with all of the high-level international issues and decisions and processes it was suddenly faced with. For all its bluster, the Trump Organization is not a Fortune 500 company, with huge teams of people and sophisticated communication systems and tons of seasoned assistants crisscrossing spanning offices, ticking off to-dos and putting out fires. It’s a tiny office stuffed with decades-old magazine covers featuring the boss, and, one floor away, his kids’ offices in a sleeker, more modern area. One longtime executive-assistant-cum-gatekeeper, Rhona Graft, who had worked for the company for thirty years, handled all the calls and messages coming in for her boss.
That left Theresa May, the British prime minister, scrambling for a good twenty-four hours to get through to the incoming US president. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi got through earlier, as did Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a diplomatic faux pas deeply reflective of the total chaos within Trump Tower and the transition in the days and weeks following the election. Many lamented that if they had just stuck to the materials the early transition officials put together, this snub of a US ally would not have happened. It is impossible to say, though, whether anything would have really been different; it was Donald Trump who had just been elected president, after all. And Donald Trump, people were starting to realize, was not only unpredictable and erratic but also had a penchant for knocking things off kilter even when trying to stick to protocol.
“They all paid for not sticking to what we’d planned,” the transition official said. “Because they looked like bumbling idiots.”
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was the first leader to make the pilgrimage to Trump Tower, less than ten days after Donald won the election. The Trump team left the pool of reporters on duty that day out of the meeting, as they did with American photographers. No one got the chance to ask questions before or after the sitdown, and no official photos were released, either, apart from a Facebook post on Donald’s page that showed him shoulder-to-shoulder with Abe in the foreground, the gilded moldings and marble and cream silk sofas of the Trump residence behind them. “It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my home and begin a great friendship,” he captioned the shot.
The Japanese government had a different plan. They handed out more revealing photos of their prime minister’s time in Trump Tower to the waiting press. In one, Donald and Abe sat facing each other on that silk cream couch, flanked by two interpreters and a dizzying array of crystal chandeliers and sconces and marble statues and mirrors. Facing them across a gilded coffee table topped with a gold candelabra holding unlit candlesticks, Ivanka Trump sat cross-legged in a beige armchair. Arms crossed at the wrists, she leaned back in her shift dress, black stilettos digging into the cream carpet. In another photo she stood beside Abe and Jared, who wore a slender gray suit jacket buttoned over a slim black tie. In a third shot, the couple stood smiling behind Donald and Abe as they shook hands.
Immediately, alarm bells rang over the ethics and the optics of it all. First, what business did a daughter and son-in-law who had no governmental experience or even, at that point, a plan to join the government, have at that meeting? Everyone still had faith then that the country would be run as a democracy and not a monarchy, that the First Family would never be a royal family. But these photos were enough to shake that faith. Second, the fact that neither Ivanka nor Jared had security clearances raised some eyebrows. Third, perhaps most concerning, Ivanka was still heavily involved with the Trump Organization and with her own eponymous product line, both of which did deals around the world. The image of her having a cozy meeting, in a diplomatic position of power, with a world leader raised concerns. What, if any, boundaries would be drawn between Trump Tower business and foreign relationships within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Would the family use its newfound political circumstances as a marketing opportunity?
Ivanka’s brand had already been hit hard for marketing off her campaign appearances. The Ivanka Trump social media accounts had posted buy links for the sleeveless pink Ivanka Trump dress she wore to introduce her father at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and for the gold bangle bracelet she wore on 60 Minutes, taped alongside her father and siblings two days after the election. Both times, Ivanka made it clear behind the scenes that she herself had nothing to do with the posts. Not only did she know better, but she was so much more focused on the bigger-picture issues she now had a chance to influence. Selling dresses and bracelets wasn’t taking up much space in her brain during that period; it was lower-level Ivanka Trump brand staffers who’d thought up the whole thing. Could she blame them? No way. They were just doing their jobs. Was she going to take the blame? Again, no. She had a very different sort of job.
Concerns continued to mount. Soon afterward, the New York Times reported that while Ivanka sat across from Abe in her childhood apartment, a two-day private viewing of her collection, including the sleeveless pink dress she wore to the convention, was taking place in Tokyo to shore up a licensing deal with a Japanese apparel company. Talks between the Ivanka Trump brand and Sanei International had been under way for years, and did not stem from Ivanka herself. The largest investor of Sanei’s parent company happens to be a bank owned by the Japanese government.
The apparatus around Ivanka spun it as a rookie mistake. “Any meetings she’s in is because it’s always been a family focused environment and she has always been invited by her father to attend every meeting,” one person explained at the time. “But she is very committed to being respectful of different boundaries and it’s clear that it’s going to take some getting used to the changes that need to happen. They all understand that there’s a need to evaluate everything, and in the next couple of weeks, we will have a better sense of how she is going to separate from that.”
BUT THE Trump kids did not separate. In fact, despite the months of preparation carried out by professionals and policy experts, the Trump campaign’s hallmark chaos bled into the postelection process, Donald’s three adult kids made themselves at home on the transition’s executive committee. They took seats at the table in the first official transition meeting in Trump Tower in the days after the election, alongside Trump loyalist and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, his chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, and a handful of others. So began the exercise of trying to fill top agency positions and, most importantly, decide on Cabinet nominations, a tedious process for anyone, let alone an incoming president with no governmental know-how and little to no attention span.
Eric Trump had worked for his father as a Trump Organization employee for about a decade and as his son for thirty-two years. He knew that Donald could derail the whole thing if he thought he could appoint anyone he wanted, including his friends, who had even less business serving in top agency positions than Donald did. Nothing would ever get done if Donald believed there were an unlimited number of possibilities, or worse, if he thought those roles could go to anyone he thought fit. Eric asked the transition staff to come up with short lists of potential nominees who had a shot at getting confirmed, and present these to his father. “We have to lead him to believe that this is who he has to choose from,” he told people. “He’s got to think those are the only guys.”
This is where some of the tension between Eric and Jared came from. Where Eric saw Donald’s weaknesses, he tried to work around them, filling in for what he lacked and making him stronger. This wasn’t entirely altruistic; his success depended almost entirely on his father’s, after all. But for the most part, he came from a place of trying to make his father better, and a desire to protect him from himself. Eric didn’t feel like that was where Jared came from in his own dealings with Donald. Throughout the campaign, especially, he told people that he felt Jared took advantage of Donald’s weaknesses, as opposed to trying to neutralize them.
They put those tensions aside, though, for the initial postelection transition meeting. They had just started working through some of the first steps when Generals Mike Flynn and Keith Kellogg walked in the room. As far as Christie, who was running the meeting, knew, they had not been invited, and this was not a come-as-you please, anyone-is-welcome affair. “Gentlemen,” he said, “we’re in the middle of a meeting. Can I help you?”
When Ivanka cut in to say that she had invited both of them, Christie demurred. He told Flynn and Kellogg that since he hadn’t known they would be joining, he had not made printouts of the meeting agenda and materials for them. They would have to look on with someone else.
The meeting was getting back on track when Ivanka again interrupted. “General Flynn,” she said, turning to him, “you have been so amazingly loyal to my dad. We all love you. How do you want to serve the president-elect? What job do you want?” A few people around the table caught each other’s eyes. Jeff Sessions rolled his, pulled his glasses off the bridge of his nose, and sank back into his chair.
There were just a few jobs he would be qualified to take, Flynn responded: secretary of state or secretary of defense, or, if not one of those, head of the president’s National Security Council.
Eric jumped in. He asked if Flynn had been retired long enough to head the Pentagon. Flynn said that if he got a waiver from Congress, it would be okay. Eric turned to Sessions and asked how often Congress issued waivers like that to potential cabinet nominees. “Never,” Sessions replied.
Later on in the meeting, Ivanka put the same question she had asked Flynn to Kellogg. He would be happy to take on the role of chief of staff, he said.
“To the president?” Eric asked.
Yes, Kellogg told him.
“Well, is there anything else you would possibly want?”
ON THURSDAY the family sat down for an interview with Leslie Stahl, to air on CBS’s 60 Minutes that Sunday. The interview, taped on the first floor of the triplex in which all the kids, apart from Tiffany, had grown up, and together watched news anchors call states for their father a couple of nights before, would be the first time Donald, Melania, and all five children talked about the changes to come.
Earlier that day, forty-some stories down, on the twentieth floor, Bannon called Christie into his office and fired him from his role as head of the transition on the spot. On one hand, there was a sense that Donald, who out of superstition had not wanted to know anything about the transition, had been sold a bill of goods about where it stood, despite the months of prep done by true experts who’d filled dozens of binders with useful research and delineated next steps. All of that work had been done by people the family considered Christie loyalists, so how could they trust it? They couldn’t, they thought, which explains why they made a show of dumping tens of binders in the trash in front of the very people who’d prepared them. Those who believed this was about settling the long-simmering Kushner-Christie score saw Jared’s overtures during the campaign, and particularly on election night, when he threw his arm around the governor as ruthless. Many saw this as an attempt to replace those who’d aligned with Christie to those who aligned with the candidate and his family, which is why the campaign swiftly appointed Pence as its new leader and Dearborn its executive director.
The move to bring in an incoming vice president to head a transition did have a precedent. George W. Bush had done the same when he was preparing to take office. Christie also happened to be mired in scandal in his own state; two of his former aides had been convicted in the so-called Bridgegate scandal, in which traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to Manhattan were closed as political retribution against a political foe in New Jersey, a week earlier. Dearborn would also be a natural liaison between Trump Tower and Capitol Hill, and as usual, the Trump kids would be there to oversee it all.
But the story that this was just Washington business as usual, without a hint of personal vengeance, became harder to buy as the days went on. Rich Bagger, who’d taken a leave from his job as Christie’s chief of staff and temporarily moved from New Jersey to DC to serve as the transition’s executive, was waiting for Christie when he came up to the twenty-fifth floor after Bannon canned him. They wanted to keep Bagger on, since he was the guy who knew every in and out. Bagger responded by saying he would quit and finished with a hearty fuck-you.
Bagger still went down to Washington the following day. He had planned a meeting in the DC transition offices in which Bill Palatucci, Christie’s former law partner and the transition’s general counsel, would go over ethics requirements in front of hundreds of staffers. As he made his way to the stage, Bagger got a call from Dearborn, telling him to stop Palatucci in his tracks. He’d forgotten to tell the general counsel that he was about to be fired. They didn’t want Palatucci getting up in front of everyone, and they didn’t want Bagger up there, either. Bagger told them to go scratch, and he and Palatucci ran the meeting anyway.
By the next week Dearborn had also fired Mike Rogers, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman Christie had hired to run the transition’s national security wing. “I saw this all happening and I said to myself, ‘Holy shit, man,” one high-up transition official noted. “We all knew this was coming from the family, and these were guys who had put their hearts and souls into this, and they treated them like they were something stuck on their shoes. It was just an ugly, ugly bloodletting, and they didn’t even have the class to make the call themselves. They had Dearborn do it for them.”
Bannon later admitted that the decision to fire Christie and everyone, in the family’s eyes, associated with him came from Jared. Donald himself insisted that Christie had not in fact been fired, but simply made a member of a bigger team.
The campaign’s statement said it all. “Together this outstanding group of advisors, led by Vice President elect Mike Pence, will build on the initial work done under the leadership of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to help prepare a transformative government ready to lead from day one.” Christie would be moved to the role of vice chairman of the transition effort. Jared, Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric were among the members of the executive committee, along with Steve Bannon, Ben Carson, Mike Flynn, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Rebekah Mercer, Steven Mnuchin, Devin Nunes, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, and Peter Thiel.
FIGURING OUT how to untangle everything swallowed up time Jared and Ivanka did not have. Ivanka had to start thinking about whether or how to uproot her kids and move to Washington. As she started to seriously consider the possibility, friends urged them not to. There were two camps of people insisting that she should stay in New York, first, those who said attaching themselves further to such a polarizing political environment would ruin their reputations and their friendships and all the little frills and big comforts they’d known and enjoyed for most of their lives; and second, those who worried about what their businesses would be without them. Don and Ivanka and Eric were the three musketeers within the Trump Organization. People close to the family told Ivanka that if she left and broke up the band, they didn’t know if it would ever come back together again. People close to Jared told him that his association with the White House would place tremendous scrutiny on Kushner Companies and scare off investors who didn’t want their finances run through by the media and government’s fine-tooth combs. There was the added pressure from within the Kushner family, though they fully supported and found great pride in Jared ascending to the West Wing. There were the practical concerns over how the business would run. Jared’s brother Josh had his own company. His sister Nicole was a relative newcomer to the business, and while she had been there, Jared very much ran the show alongside his father. As a felon, Charlie Kushner couldn’t sign anything. As that reality dawned on him, he would often blurt out “I miss Jared” in the middle of meetings, in front of other Kushner family members and business associates.
Ivanka often responded that she wanted to actually affect change on issues she’d been talking about in the private sector for years, only now with a level of efficacy on a global scale that she could never have imagined before. To close friends, she would add that she couldn’t leave her father in Washington alone: “He can’t get down there and look around and have no one around him,” she’d say. “He needs his people there.”
THERE WAS no one on the transition staff close to Jared and Ivanka who could herd them through the process of filling out disclosure forms and security clearance documents. They had dozens upon dozens of businesses and trusts and investments and properties and holdings, all of which they had to somehow untangle themselves from. They had to figure out whether they wanted to fully divest from these, and if so, how to go about that. If they didn’t, they faced a whole other set of issues over putting those assets into a trust controlled by someone else, in many cases, by Jared’s mother Seryl and his siblings Josh and Nicole. Over time, Kushner resigned from 266 corporate positions, and Ivanka stepped back from 292. In the first six months of the administration, the couple revised its financial disclosure form about forty times, a rate his lawyers called normal, and governmental ethics experts called bullshit.
That the couple was worth hundreds of millions of dollars, scattered so widely and in such complex ways, was one factor. Another was a mixture of náiveté and lack of guidance. As one transition official noted, the Trump team was unprepared and woefully understaffed, lacking in the old Washington hands who might have helped Jared and Ivanka avoid the mistakes that would lead them to update their disclosure forms forty times in six months: “If you worked on the Hillary campaign, you’d have Marc Elias explain to you how these things are serious and how you handle them. They had no one. There was no one to say, ‘Here is how you need to handle this.’ There were just no experts around at all.”
The couple’s friends intervened. Joel Klein, the former Murdoch News Corp guy who now works for Jared’s brother’s health insurance start-up Oscar, cautioned him to hire someone who knew their stuff as he waded through the muck of figuring out how he could take a position in the White House, mitigating conflicts of interest and working out how to get around that anti-nepotism law. His recommendation, Jamie Gorelick, had served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, fund-raised for Hillary, and just gone through the process of vetting potential Cabinet members for Trump’s opponent, a rough outline that would never see the light of day. She herself was seen as a likely pick for attorney general, had Hillary pulled it off.
As it was, Gorelick took Klein at his word that Jared would be a necessary voice in the incoming administration, though she did think twice about accepting him as a client. So did her partners at her law firm, Wilmer Hale, the same firm where now special counsel Robert Mueller worked, and from which hailed a handful of the lawyers he tapped for his investigation into Trump campaign officials, including into some of Jared’s activities. Whispers spread around New York’s big law firms that some Wilmer Hale partners worried that with all the reports of and uncertainty over the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, having Jared as a client would open them up to scrutiny.
Even with help, there were ethical minefields everywhere. The meeting with Prime Minister Abe had normalized the idea of Ivanka not only sitting in on these sorts of meetings but also hosting meetings in Trump Tower with diplomats and thought leaders on her own. On a frigid day in early January, at midday, Queen Rania of Jordan rode those golden elevators up to meet with Ivanka about global women’s issues and how to best advocate for them in Washington, though at that point Ivanka had not yet confirmed that she was moving to DC. Queen Rania, an honorary chair of the UN’s Girls Education Initiative and founder of an NGO that helps families and children in poverty, had already been doing the kind of work Ivanka had said she wanted to do throughout the campaign. She too benefited from the privileges of inheritance, though by marriage in her case. When House minority leader Nancy Pelosi veered into women’s issues while on the line with Donald, he promptly handed the phone over to his daughter. The two of them could talk it out.
A month earlier, in December, Leonardo DiCaprio sat down privately with Ivanka to talk about climate change, presenting her with a copy of Before the Flood, a ninety minute documentary featuring the Oscar winner traveling across five continents to witness the climate impacts communities there already feel. She invited Al Gore to visit Trump Tower, too, to talk about the environment and sit down with her father, who publicly denied the existence of climate change.
“It’s an important signal that she’s not fucking crazy,” a person close to Ivanka said of the meetings at the time. “She gets it. She’s normal. These aren’t all issues that are going to be part of her advocacy necessarily, but she is interested in learning about them and hearing all sides and to show that.”
The couple met with other Washington insiders, tucking into a booth in the BLT Prime setup in the lobby of the newly minted Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and meeting with Dina Powell, a veteran of the Bush White House and State Department and a Goldman Sachs insider, who, their mutual friends told the Trump-Kushners, they would be lucky to have as a shepherd. Ivanka had an extended conversation with outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama, the details of which they kept close. Jared continued to take calls and meetings with foreign officials, too. Donald had tapped Jared to be the point person handling incoming requests from the leaders, officials, and diplomats who started reaching out once his campaign gained traction in the primaries, and continued to do so all the way through inauguration and after. It’s not that Jared had any sort of diplomatic prowess or experience. He was both a yes-man who complied with his father-in-law’s requests and a skilled schmoozer used to being slightly out of his depth in dealing with older, far more seasoned heavy hitters. These officials gamely got in good with a naive member of the Trump campaign’s innermost circle who was bound to the candidate and, later, president, by law and a sense of filial duty. It was a long-haul play that they knew would pay off for months, if not years, to come. Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared, who got hundreds of campaign-related emails a day, including dozens from foreign officials looking to establish some sort of relationship with his father-in-Iaw, talked with somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred foreign officials from about twenty countries, including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso, and, rather infamously now, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Donald and Kislyak had met more than six months earlier, in April 2016, at a private reception at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. During a reception before a speech Donald delivered on foreign policy, Jared shook hands with a handful of ambassadors, some of whom mentioned getting together for a lunch that never happened. In the remarks that followed, Donald spoke of “improved relations with Russia” and a desire to “make a deal that’s great” for “America, but also good for Russia.” Kislyak took it all in from the front row.
A week after Donald’s electoral win, the ambassador followed up. His people got in touch with Jared’s people requesting a meeting, which occurred in Trump Tower on the first day of December. Michael Flynn, who would soon serve a short stint as the administration’s national security director before lying to the FBI about his discussions with Russians and, later, flipping in the Mueller investigation and serving as a cooperating witness, joined them. The way Kislyak told it to his superiors, in an email the Washington Post claimed was picked up on intercepts of Russian communications reviewed by US officials, among other topics, Jared and Kislyak allegedly discussed a secret back channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin out of Russian diplomatic facilities. The ambassador allegedly said he was caught off guard by the suggestion, which would not only raise security concerns for both countries but also break a US law. The Logan Act, a federal statute that dates back to nearly the beginning of the Republic, prohibits citizens from getting involved in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments without authorization. The act has never been used to successfully prosecute any American citizen, though it does carry a prison sentence of up to three years. Kushner’s meeting took place before Donald took office, and without the Obama administration’s knowledge or approval.
Jared tells the story of the meeting differently. Kislyak, he said in a statement to Congress months after his father-in-law took office, had asked if the transition had a secure way for Russian generals to communicate to the Trump team information related to Syria, in order to help the incoming administration. Jared had then asked if the Russian embassy had a communications channel already in place through which they could have these discussions about Syria. He contends that he never suggested talking about anything else, or that the conversations would be ongoing. The bulk of the meeting, which he said was not particularly memorable, was taken up with exchanging pleasantries and asking who the best point of contact for Vladimir Putin would be.
Jared declined a follow-up meeting that Kislyak requested, but at the ambassador’s urging he sat down with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker with direct ties to Putin, in Trump Tower on December 13. The meeting was only twenty-five minutes long-enough time for the man to hand him two gifts, 3 pieces of art and a bag of dirt from the town in Belarus where his grandparents grew up, and to raise suspicions over whether the two had talked about personal, Kushner-related business or public affairs that could impact Russian-American relations.
In one light, the meetings painted Jared as a dewy eyed novice punching above his weight. In another, he looked like a perfectly soft target, just asking to be struck by an enemy that had spent the entire election cycle repeatedly hitting at the heart of American democracy.
The ethics concerns raised by these hundreds of interactions with foreign officials, so serious in their nature that they eventually played a part in an investigation into the Trump campaign and transition, on top of Ivanka’s own meetings, added to the weight placed on the couple. This was on top of the numerous divesting and business decisions they were in the process of making, as well as personal choices over whether or not to uproot their three young children in order to ride this political train down to DC.
Nevertheless, the couple still made time for their family. In December, Jared, Ivanka, their three children, and a babysitter all made their way to the annual Kushner Companies holiday party. That year, at the end of 2016, as the family’s heir apparent and his First Daughter in-waiting weighed taking official jobs that would make them among the most powerful individuals in the world, the Kushners threw their company féte in the basement of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar, a five-hundredseat, three floor restaurant beyond caricature. In perhaps one of the most storied restaurant reviews in the history of the Gray Lady, restaurant critic Pete Wells poses a series of questions to American Kitchen & Bar’s celebrity chef and his staff. “Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste?” he asked. “The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?” He capped it off with the age-old quandary: “Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?”
None of that mattered much to the Kushners. They owned the building in which Fieri opened his restaurant and, technically, the wall on which he painted his famed “Welcome 2 Flavor Town!” slogan, which meant they got the space for their party on the cheap. They could not purport to have hosted it there because they wanted to dip a toe into “flavor town,” even ironically. The restaurant’s menu stacked itself with items like mac ’n’ cheese in a three-cheese sauce with bacon crumbles, cornmealcrusted shrimp po’boys slathered in Creole mayonnaise, and slow-cooked pork shank dunked in sweet and spicy General Tso’s sauce, a selection of delicacies so flagrantly in violation of every law of kashruth that a rabbi examining the menu might think it a parody. The Kushners, of course, are Orthodox Jews. They don’t eat pork or bacon or shrimp, and they certainly do not mix any of those meats with milk, even within the same meal, let alone in one single dish. To get around that, Kushners brought in their own kosher caterer to handle the food for the party.
A little more than a year later, the restaurant closed its doors; revenues were not enough to keep up with the rent Kushner Companies charged. “From what I understand, it wasn’t the right concept for the space in the long run,” a Kushner spokeswoman said after the restaurant shuttered on New Year’s Eve at the tail end of 2017. “I think he appeals to a more Midwestern aesthetic than a New York one.”
ABOUT A week later, the Kushners took another break. Charlie and Seryl wanted to treat their kids and their kids’ kids to a getaway, as they often did, and so they booked the family a villa at the Four Seasons Resort Huaialai in Hawaii. Jared and Ivanka had gone on vacation a few months earlier, as the guests of Wendi Murdoch aboard David Geffen’s yacht, on which they sailed around Croatia while Donald’s presidential campaign sank and floundered after his dour convention in Cleveland and his attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family who spoke out against him onstage at the Democratic National Convention. But every day felt like a year in the era of Trump. In 2016, they had welcomed their third baby; traveled across the country and back again and back again and again on the campaign trail; spoken onstage at the RNC; inserted themselves into every major hiring and firing decision; put out some media fires and started others, depending on how it served them; weathered self-inflicted crises in their shul; feuded with media executives and former friends; taken meetings with world leaders and Russian diplomats and CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; decided to move to DC; and tried to shed themselves of assets and positions that any of the thousands of people who wanted their heads could claim as a conflict of interest. With the move away from New York on the quickly approaching horizon a move that would take them a few states south of the Kushner, and the brutal cold of an East Coast winter only just beginning, the prospect of uninterrupted time away with their family and apart from Donald, who himself was hunkered down in Mar-a-Lago, sounded nothing short of necessary.
The whole Kushner family queued up in Terminal 5 at JFK Airport in Queens and boarded a commercial JetBlue flight en route to San Francisco, in coach, as they always did when the whole family flew together for these sorts of holiday trips. They had billions of dollars, and they flew private when they needed to, but there were two matriarchs, four children, four spouses, and a mess of grandchildren and their help. Billions of dollars do not grow on trees. Coach would do just fine, at least for this leg of the trip. A private plane was waiting for them in San Francisco to take them on the final leg to Hawaii.
Ivanka, in black jeans, a navy zip-up with gray sleeves, and Puma slip-ons, her hair tousled and spilling out of her loosely tied ponytail, looked more like a normal traveler already exhausted before a cross-country flight with three kids under six in tow than an incoming First Daughter. She certainly looked more earthly than she did in the images of her fully made up and in pencil skirts or shift dresses and stilettos plastered across cable news for months on end and her own social media accounts for years.
Fellow passengers recognized her anyway. Of course they did. She was now one of the most recognizable faces in the United States, if not the world, and in New York, which had overwhelmingly voted against her father a few months earlier, one of the most vilified. Dan Goldstein, a lawyer in the city, stopped her after they boarded the flight. Overcome with the frustration built up throughout the campaign and the concern bubbling over since November, he shouted at her: “You ruined our country and now you are ruining our flight!” People around them froze. The flight crew sputtered. Goldstein continued, “Why is she on our flight? She should be flying private.” Ivanka told flight attendants that she did not want to make this a whole big thing, but JetBlue ushered Goldstein and his husband off the flight. “The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly,” the airline said in a statement. “If the crew determines that a customer is causing conflict on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane, especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of escalation during flight. In this instance, our team worked to re-accommodate the party on the next available flight.”
They’d brushed it off by the time they arrived in their villa on the 800-acre Four Seasons property, where rooms start in the four figures and the three hundred homes and condos on the adjoining residential community in which they stayed are valued at up to $20 million a pop. There are two championship-quality golf courses with comfort stations stocked with free bourbon and candy bars, a spa with an apothecary peddling herbal remedies made right there before guests’ eyes, and attendants by the pool offering to clean guests’ sunglasses or present them with chilled towels or spritz them with Evian. Billionaires like Ken Griffin, Charles Schwab, and Howard Schultz own homes there, having paid the $200,000 initiation fee and $40,000 annual dues to cover their use of the resort facilities. There, the Kushners were perhaps the poor kids on the tropical block. But they did have something all those other more billionairey billionaires didn’t have: a First Daughter daughter-in-law and a son on the way to the West Wing. Not everyone there, however, saw that as a draw.
The Trump-Kushners commanded enough attention that other guests snapped photos of them reading under the cover of plush tented lounges by the pool. They caught Jared in a swimsuit with a surprising number of abdominal muscles peeking through his wiry frame, carrying their youngest son to the beach. They nabbed Ivanka in leggings and sneakers picking up breakfast from the resort’s café on Saturday morning with her daughter Arabella, though it is unclear how she paid for the meal, given that it was Shabbat. Observers don’t exchange money from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday. Writing, like signing a name or room number on a receipt, is also prohibited.
The family did celebrate Hanukkah while on the island. “This year is one of the rare and special occasions where Hanukkah and Christmas coincide. As we light the candles, sending love from our family to yours this holiday season! Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukkah,” she posted on her Instagram account, under a photo of her, Jared, and their children smiling in front of five lit menorah, one for each of them. In Jewish tradition, you add to the mitzvah by lighting multiple menorahs in your home. The idea is that the more candles lit, the more people can see the miracles God makes for those who fight for justice and truth. By the end of those eight nights, just weeks before they officially descended onto Washington, the Trump-Kushners lit more than two hundred candles.
Born/Married/Divorced/Married/ Divorced/Married/Raised Trump
IF FATE placed Ivana Zelmékové in the little Czechoslovakian town of Zlin with her grandmother, the president of a shoe factory, and her stay-at-home grandfather, or her parents, an engineer and a telephone operator living in a two-story government compound that amounted to nothing more than a concrete box, it was destiny that allowed her to rocket herself out of it and land in a glittering triplex atop Fifth Avenue in Manhattan three decades later.
Ivana was born in 1949, a year after Stalin’s coup.
BORN TRUMP, Inside America’s First Family
by Emily Jane Fox
get it at Amazon.com