“I am a private person and prefer to keep the details of my family’s business as private as possible,” Charles Kushner wrote, in an article published in the Washington Post opinion section, where it was available for anyone with an internet connection to read. Kushner is, in fact, extremely committed to keeping his family’s business private—so much so that when a grand jury wanted to talk to his sister and her husband about Charles Kushner’s use of family business money for political contributions, he hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and secretly recorded them having sex, so that he could send the video to his sister to try to blackmail her out of testifying. That detail did not make it into the account of his family’s business history that he wrote for the Post.
Instead, Kushner spent the piece arguing that everyone had misunderstood the deal that his son Jared had made to buy 666 Fifth Avenue in 2007, in which the company had paid more than anyone had ever before paid for a building in the United States, right before the real estate market and the global economy collapsed. In Charles Kushner’s telling—which, unlike the coverage when it happened, credits the purchase to the family company as a whole rather than to Jared Kushner personally—this was an unforeseen “setback,” rather than, say, the obvious result of someone foolishly choosing to be the biggest spender right before a bubble burst (“New York City is the greatest place in the world to own real estate,” the sellers, who had bought 666 Fifth Avenue six years before for less than one-third of the $1.8 billion price Jared Kushner paid, said at the time).
The general understanding, in the business press, was that the deal was a debacle. The Kushners’ fallback plans to redevelop the site into a more luxurious building went nowhere, tenants emptied out, and in February of this year they were due to have to somehow pay back a lump sum of $1.4 billion on the mortgage—until, with six months to spare, Brookfield Asset Management, a company heavily supported by the Qatar Investment Authority, stepped in and paid $1.1 billion for a 99-year lease on the building.
There was nothing either dramatic or untoward about the entire situation, Charles Kushner wrote:
Before the Brookfield deal, critics and media reports suggested that the Kushner Companies itself was somehow jeopardized by 666 Fifth Ave.—and that the company had been forced to seek illicit or inappropriate foreign investors. Both narratives are false.
First, 666 Fifth Ave. was not a big financial loser. Even before we recouped most of the initial investment, the property represented a small portion of the company’s overall holdings; the Kushner Companies’ health was fine. Second, trophy assets in New York often appeal to foreign investors—that’s a legal and appropriate stream of funding.
This was a shifty account of things; the question was never whether or not 666 Fifth Avenue was operating as “a big financial loser,” but whether the Kushners could absorb the brutal mortgage payment when the time came. But the piece could say whatever it wanted to say. No one would have any reason to expect Charles Kushner to be a useful or reliable source of information about Charles or Jared Kushner’s business.
Yet because it was hollow and meaningless as a piece of text, it was profound and self-annihilating as a statement. The Washington Post opinion section considers it part of its mission to publish absurdly self-interested op-eds by people who have no intention of enlightening or informing its readers. It does so because it believes it is a forum for public actors to perform public acts. The only reason for Charles Kushner to have been there, telling the readers his business dealings are private, was that he knew, and the Post knew, that his business dealings are a matter of public interest.