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Banks, Financial

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Wealth manager Brewin Dolphin hit by restructuring costs

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Categorized | Property

Jared Kushner, favoured son-in-law of Donald Trump

Posted on November 18, 2016

Before he became Donald Trump’s son-in-law and political adviser, Jared Kushner was a wealthy young man with a punishing travel schedule. For about a year, he would fly from New York to Alabama on Sundays to visit the federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base — and deal with disgrace.

In those days, Mr Kushner, then in his twenties, was the son of federal inmate 26526-050. His father Charles, a New Jersey real estate tycoon known for big donations to Democratic politicians and Jewish causes, was incarcerated in the minimum-security facility in 2005 after pleading guilty to federal charges in a lurid political corruption scandal.

Not only had the elder Kushner admitted filing false tax returns and campaign finance reports, he also acknowledged hiring a prostitute to seduce his sister’s husband so the encounter could be filmed by private detectives in his employ. The tape was then sent to his brother-in-law and sister’s home, in an ill-fated attempt to stop them from helping prosecutors.

Jared Kushner’s response was to honour his father. A Harvard graduate who earned degrees in law and business at New York University, he joined the Kushner business after his father went to prison and shifted it into overdrive. Before he turned 30, he had bought the New York Observer newspaper, paid $1.8bn for an iconic Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue, cashed out of Kushner family holdings in New Jersey and persuaded Ivanka Trump — scion of another local real estate dynasty, whom he met through mutual friends — to convert to Judaism and become his wife.

In the process, Mr Kushner, now 35, demonstrated the qualities that have helped make him a political power — first as a confidant in the Trump campaign, now as a player in the president-elect’s transition effort and possibly as a White House adviser starting next year.

He is a single-minded operator with a capacity for filial piety that is second to none, according to those who know him. He seems willing to do for his father-in-law what he did for his father — which is to say, whatever it takes. “He is the ultimate family man,” says Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, a Jewish chaplain at Harvard who met Mr Kushner when he was a freshman and has kept in touch in the years that have followed. “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for family. His loyalty to family is supreme in life.”

Robert Torricelli, 65, a former Democratic senator from New Jersey who has known Mr Kushner since he was a boy, compares his upbringing to that of John F Kennedy, who was groomed for the presidency by his father Joseph.

“Jared was raised by his father to be a person of consequence,” he says. “Charlie Kushner had a role in mind for Jared Kushner from the beginning.”

Even in Washington, Jared remains Charles Kushner’s son. As the younger Kushner has flexed his political muscles in recent days, one of the big losers in the Trump circle has been Chris Christie, the Republican New Jersey governor who was replaced by Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, as the head of Mr Trump’s transition.

In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, Mr Christie was the US attorney who prosecuted Charles Kushner. After the latter pleaded guilty, a pleased Mr Christie described his fate as “incredibly humiliating”. The chattering classes are speculating about whether Jared Kushner will try to obtain a presidential pardon for his 62-year-old father, who was released from federal custody in 2006 and returned to the family business.

Exactly how Jared Kushner will serve Mr Trump in the White House remains unclear. A US law — enacted in the 1960s after John Kennedy made his brother Robert attorney-general — bars presidents from employing relatives, including in-laws, in federal agencies. The suggestion has been made that Mr Kushner could work in an informal capacity, but that raises other legal issues.

Also to be determined is how Mr Kushner will coexist with his bedfellows in a Trump administration. Mr Kushner was raised in a Democratic home that identified with orthodox Judaism: Rabbi Zarchi remembers sitting with Mr Kushner after a Sabbath dinner to discuss a work of Jewish mysticism called the Tanya and talking for so long that “before we knew it, it was three hours later”.

By contrast, Mr Kushner’s Republican father-in-law has faced criticism from Jewish groups that he has encouraged anti-Semitism, for instance by naming as his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, head of far-right Breitbart News. Describing himself as “the grandson of Holocaust survivors”, Mr Kushner wrote a column during the campaign that said Mr Trump “is not an anti-Semite”. One of Mr Kushner’s estranged cousins responded by calling his reference to the suffering of their grandparents “self-serving and disgusting”.

Perhaps the only certainty is that Mr Trump will continue to find in Mr Kushner a kindred spirit. Both are the Ivy League-educated sons of rich property men who operated on the outskirts of the New York area. Both set their sights on the bright lights of Manhattan real estate and the media. Both have endured family turmoil — self-induced in the case of the thrice-married president-elect, and inherited in the life of his lower-key son-in-law.

Most importantly, both are now trying to do something they have never done before. The world is left to wonder where they are headed — and whether they will arrive at their destination separately or together.

The writer is the FT’s US national editor