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The Union of the Kushners and the Trumps Seems Like Kismet

If Kushner was moved by Gorkov’s thoughtful gifts, he did not let on to either Congress or to the Mueller investigators. But Bernstein sees the symbolism. The bag of dirt, she writes, was “reminiscent of the bags of dirt that Rae Kushner” — Kushner’s grandmother — “and her family had dug from the earth and hidden in the walls of Novogrudok ghetto so the Nazis wouldn’t know they had dug a tunnel to safety.” Dramatic enough on its own. But Bernstein sees deeper meaning that she wants us to know is lost on her subjects, the Kushners and the Trumps. “Had it not been for those bags of dirt,” she writes, “Rae would never have made it out of the ghetto, to the forest, to the refugee camp, or to New York, where she had four children, including one named after her brother who had died during the escape. And whose own son, Jared Corey Kushner, was now one of the most powerful people in a new and uncertain world slinking again toward darkness.”

[ This book was one of our most anticipated titles of January. See the full list. ]

This passage shows Bernstein at her narrative best: reportorial, pointed and unsparing, while reinforcing her theme that the Trumps and the Kushners are ruthless, cold, power hungry and endlessly ambitious. Her narrative traces the origin of the myths about the two families, how these callous, opportunistic dynasties were finally joined at the hip through the 2009 marriage of Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Trump’s older daughter and most-favored child, at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club, and what the present generations were willing to do to relatives, friends and foes — anyone, really — to slake their seemingly unquenchable thirsts.

But it is also true that Bernstein has picked a most difficult topic to probe for new insights. So much has been written already about the Trumps and the Kushners — and not just in the four-plus years since Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower spewing vitriol and hate — that to add new material to that grotesque canon is an exceptionally challenging task for any reporter, even one as diligent as Bernstein. While “American Oligarchs” is a rich and highly readable compendium, one does not finish it and think, “I’ve just been bedazzled and infuriated anew.” Rather, the experience of consuming this book is more along the lines of reading an encyclopedia of many of the hateful things we already know, or think we know, about these two families.

As Bernstein shares in her “Note on Sources,” she did not have access to Trump or his family. She did not interview the Kushners, although Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father, answered some of her questions through his attorney; Jared Kushner, through the White House, provided some factual information but did not answer her questions. She obviously didn’t have Anonymous’s access to the White House, or even Michael Wolff’s. Fear was yet another obstacle to overcome. Most of the more than 200 people she did interview — many of them with firsthand knowledge of events, and on good terms with the Trumps and the Kushners — declined to be identified in any way.

Make no mistake, Bernstein is an intrepid reporter, best known for her work at WNYC, the New York City public radio station, and in particular for her relentless digging about Bridgegate, that notorious only-in-New-Jersey story that probably cost Chris Christie, the former governor, the chance of making a serious run for the Republican nomination that Trump won instead. Of course, as Bernstein also shares, Christie was the United States attorney in New Jersey who famously prosecuted Kushner’s father for evading taxes, witness tampering, making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law as part of a family feud. When Charles Kushner pleaded guilty, in 2004, he served 14 months in a federal prison.

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