Jared Kushner and Ivanaka Trump watch as Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are poised to become one of the most powerful couples in the US.
Donald Trump’s eldest daughter and her husband, who played crucial roles in directing Trump’s campaign, now sit at the helm of his transition team, along with Trump’s sons, and, on Monday, Trump named Kushner a senior adviser to the president, an appointment that has raised questions about potential conflicts of interests and drawn accusations of nepotism.
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Trump described his son-in-law, a New York real estate executive and publisher of the weekly New York Observer, as a “tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition” and praised him as “incredibly successful, in both business and now politics”. Ivanka, who serves as executive vice-president of development and acquisitions of the Trump Organization and has her own fashion line, is not expected to have a formal role in the administration.
As the couple prepare to move their family from New York to Washington, his appointment and her continued involvement in the family business open the administration up to new claims of conflicts of interest when it has far from resolved its approach to those of Donald Trump himself.
Ethics lawyers have also raised concerns that Kushner’s appointment will run afoul of federal anti-nepotism law, which prohibits any public official from hiring family members to an agency or office which he or she leads.
WilmerHale, a law firm contracted by Kushner, has said in a statement that he is “committed to complying with federal ethics laws” and has coordinated with the Office of Government Ethics. In a statement, Trump’s transition team said Kushner has “chosen to forego his salary while serving in the administration”.
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Further complicating their roles, Kushner and Ivanka Trump are centrally involved in their families’ businesses.
Kushner’s lawyers said that he intended to divest many of his assets, including foreign investments, before starting in his White House role. Some ethics lawyers have already said that that would not go far enough to head off potential conflicts because his plans include selling to his brother, a venture capitalist, or to a family trust controlled by his mother.
Similarly, ethics experts have warned that if Trump puts his children, who currently serve as advisers on his presidential committee, in control of his business operations, as he has suggested, they would have to be entirely removed from government operations – and would not be able to attend meetings with foreign leaders like the one Ivanka Trump attended with the prime minister of Japan.
Kushner is the oldest son of Charles Kushner, a New Jersey real estate developer and prominent Democratic donor, who was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for tax evasion and retaliation against a federal witness – his brother-in-law. Charles Kushner hired a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, captured the encounter on camera, and sent the footage to his sister, the man’s wife.
Ivanka Trump and Kushner met in 2007 at a business lunch organized by mutual friends who intended it as a networking opportunity.
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“They very innocently set us up thinking that our only interest in one another would be transactional,” Ivanka told Vogue in 2015. “Whenever we see them we’re like, the best deal we ever made!”
Almost immediately, the young couple became the source of “are-they or aren’t-they” gossip column speculation. The New York press branded them with the couple name “J-Vanka”, and their true relationship status was revealed when paparazzi photos spotted the pair “making out” while bowling.
After dating for two years, they married in October 2009, at a lavish wedding attended by 500 guests at her father’s private golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Before their marriage, Ivanka converted to Judaism. Her husband comes from a devout Orthodox Jewish family, and they are raising their children in the Jewish faith.
In some ways, Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors and the son of a once-prominent Democratic donor, and Ivanka, a businesswoman who calls herself a feminist and runs in a decidedly liberal social circle, seem an unlikely pair to prop up a political campaign – and soon, a presidency – that has been assailed as nationalistic, misogynistic, racist and antisemitic.
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They both come from wealthy – and controversial – east coast real estate families. They attended elite schools – he went to Harvard (and was accepted after his father reportedly donated $2.5m) and New York University; she went to Georgetown and Wharton.
The seeming contrast invited some friends and acquaintances to muse that perhaps they are going along with Donald Trump’s political project out of a sense of familial duty and despite their personal views. But those questions faded as Kushner’s role in the campaign became clearer – and more influential – and after Ivanka introduced her father at the Republican national convention as “color-blind and gender neutral”.
“They’re believers,” Reed Cordish, a friend of the couple, told the New Yorker in August. “They are all in. They have been all in from the get-go, without hesitation.”
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