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How the Kushners became crucial West Wing players

April 3, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
As President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, goes to Iraq to assess the fight against the Islamic State, the trip highlights the expanding West Wing role of both Kushner and wife Ivanka. How did members of the first family become critical presidential advisers? John Yang offers a recap.
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JOHN YANG: Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was in Iraq today. He was invited on the trip by Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford. The trip marks his first visit to Iraq.

He was joined by Tom Bossert, the president’s homeland security adviser. And the three met with Iraqi and American officials to assess the fight against ISIS.

The trip highlights the expanding West Wing role of both Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump.

The Trump White House is a family affair. Senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has emerged as a key West Wing figure. This week, his ever-expanding role is on display. In addition to his Iraq trip, he’s a key planner of President Trump’s upcoming summit with President Xi Jinping.

His wife, Ivanka Trump, is now an official member of the White House staff and assistant to the president. White House officials say she will focus on issues like women’s economic empowerment and getting more women into science and technology.

Earlier, she said she would pass up an official role.

QUESTION: People think that you’re going to be part of the administration, Ivanka.

IVANKA TRUMP, Daughter of Donald Trump: I’m — no, I’m going to be a daughter, but I have said throughout the campaign that I am very passionate about certain issues and that I want to fight for them. So, there are a lot of things that I feel deeply, strongly about, but not in a formal administrative capacity.

JOHN YANG: Married in 2009, the couple were key members of the campaign’s inner circle.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Jared is a very successful real estate person, but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate. I’m excited. And he’s very good at politics.

JOHN YANG: Their increased visibility comes as the young administration has run into significant hurdles.

GLENN THRUSH, The New York Times: The reason why I think they are starting to increase their footprint in the West Wing and East Wing is pretty simple. Everything is going wrong. And there are a lot of power vacuums.

The question, I think, what do these New Yorkers bring to the table? Both Ivanka and Jared are not people who have had a lot of experience. They don’t have a lot of passion for public policy. They just don’t have a history of that.

JOHN YANG: Ethics watchdogs say their unpaid government service may be filled with conflicts. Newly released financial disclosure forms show that Ivanka Trump has a stake in the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., of as much as $25 million.

The couple still benefits from their $740 million real estate and investment business. Her jewelry and clothing lines are currently held in trust. In a statement, Ivanka Trump said: “I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.”

Former associates say Kushner could be a secret weapon for Mr. Trump.

KEN KURSON, New York Observer: One of his greatest strengths is how much people underestimate him. Not only is he young, and soft-spoken, and polite and very good-looking, but he also carries himself in a way that sort of allows people to think they’re going to potentially get something over on him, and then the next thing they know, he’s done just fine for himself and his stakeholders.

JOHN YANG: Even before last week’s announcement, Ivanka Trump was granted a high-level security clearance and had a seat at the table with world leaders.

The couple and their three children live in a rented $5.5 million D.C. mansion, where their neighborhoods include former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Like his father-in-law, 36-year-old Kushner was born into a real estate family and took the business into Manhattan. He took over his family’s company after his father was jailed for tax evasion and other offenses.

He graduated from Harvard and got a joint law and business degree from New York University. He also owned The New York Observer. When he joined the administration, he resigned from all professional roles and announced he would sell the paper to a family trust.

Like her father, Ivanka Trump, who is 35, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. After a brief stint as a model, she joined the Trump organization, eventually becoming an executive vice president. This is their first foray into politics and government.

GLENN THRUSH: The Bush White House, the Obama White House were stocked with experienced people who had careers as public servants. Now, the Trumps came in with the promise to change that paradigm and make the White House function more along the lines of a business. But, remember, these are not enormously successful businesspeople.

JOHN YANG: As their profiles and influence rise, so do reports of tensions with chief strategist Stephen Bannon and some of the populist conservatives in the West Wing. White House officials deny any friction, calling Kushner the ultimate team player.

Outside critics noted that Ivanka and Kushner were on a family ski trip when the president’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act faltered. White House officials say it was not an issue either of them was working on.

Kushner’s also been caught up in the investigation of ties between the Trump circle and Russia. He’s agreed to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee about arranging meetings with Russian officials during the transition.

Whether President Trump’s bet on his family pays off is an open question. Given how close they are to Mr. Trump, White House officials say they are crucial to the president’s success.

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