Initially, Charlie’s legal team signaled he would contest the allegations and go to trial. “The charges in this case are entirely baseless,” Charlie’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman told the Star-Ledger.
Most people who knew Charlie expected him to fight the charges. “It’s not his nature to plead,” a synagogue member told me. But Christie, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney, exerted pressure. Prosecutors said that they wanted to issue a “speaking indictment” that would air embarrassing evidence gathered in the investigation beyond what was already public. Charlie’s legal team discussed options for a resolution.
Charlie pleaded guilty a month later. As one person familiar with Charlie’s thinking says, “The case would have revealed a part of Charlie that he couldn’t himself face.”
The conviction meant that Jared had to grow up immediately. “He was the best son to his father in jail, the best son to his mother, who suffered terribly, and he was a father to his siblings,” Charlie tells me on the afternoon of June 24. Charlie is seated in a conference room at 666 Fifth Avenue, across the table from Jared and Howard Rubenstein, the family’s publicist.
Every Sunday, Jared flew to Alabama and visited his father in prison. He helped run the family business. It was a huge weight to put on a 24-year-old, but in truth Jared had been training for this role all his life. As the eldest, Jared had always enjoyed special privileges and responsibilities. (His younger brother Josh so far is working outside the family business at Goldman Sachs; Dara is a young mother; Nicole works for Ralph Lauren.) From the time he was 4 years old, Charlie brought Jared to look at properties, and as soon as he could, taught him to read financial statements.
Jared’s outward charm and self-discipline echo Charlie’s. Over and over, people remark on his unfailingly polite demeanor. But he seems more rehearsed than his father, more guarded. There can be a sadness about him. It’s hard to discount the experience of seeing his father sent off to prison. “He knows what it’s like to pick up the newspaper and read horrible things,” Charlie says. There’s also the burden of meeting his father’s vast expectations. He’s submerged himself in the business, largely to the exclusion of more-frivolous twentysomething pursuits.
“He was the best son to his father in jail,” Charles Kushner says about Jared, “the best son to his mother, who suffered terribly, and he was a father to his siblings.”
When Jared applied to college, Charlie was determined to get him into the most prestigious schools, and he called in favors to achieve his goal. In 1998, Charlie made a $2.5 million pledge to Harvard. According to The Price of Admission, the best-selling book written by Pulitzer Prize–winning Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Golden, Charlie asked New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg to lobby Ted Kennedy to put in a call to Harvard admissions dean William Fitzsimmons on Jared’s behalf.
At Harvard, Jared joined the Fly, one of the most glamorous of the school’s “final clubs.” “He looked good in a bow tie,” a classmate says. He developed a reputation as someone who was going places.
Every week, Charlie shipped Jared financial documents from the business to review. The summer after freshman year, Jared bought his first investment property in Somerville, Massachusetts. Charlie put up half the money, and Jared tapped his dad’s friends for the rest. Jared bought other buildings, conferring with Charlie on every deal.
In 2001, Charlie had pledged $3 million to NYU and was later appointed to the board of trustees. In 2003, as Jared prepared for law school, Charlie leased three floors of the Puck Building, which he’d bought in 1999, to the university at below-market rates.
Around the time Charlie got out of jail in the summer of 2006 (his sentence was reduced because he went to a halfway house for alcoholics), Jared was attempting his first Manhattan acquisition. In July, Jared unsuccessfully bid $1.4 billion for News Corp’s headquarters at 1211 Sixth Avenue. He then turned his attention to 666 Fifth Avenue. Barclays and UBS agreed to lend the Kushners $1.6 billion on the condition that Charlie would not play a public role, given his criminal record. “Because of Charlie’s background he’s not a borrower,” a senior real-estate investment banker close to the deal explained. “He has no controlling interest in any aspect of the property.”
But owning the Observer opened doors that real estate never could. Jared was a sudden celebrity. He attended Men’s Vogue parties and appeared in Vanity Fair alongside European aristocrats. He made friends with Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Wendi Deng. In Murdoch Jared saw a rabbi who could teach him the newspaper business. While vacationing on Murdoch’s yacht in June 2007—Google founder Sergey Brin was also aboard—Jared was thrilled when Murdoch asked him to contribute ideas on his bid for The Wall Street Journal.