When Gary D. Cohn was considering resigning as the top White House economic adviser after President Donald Trump blamed “both sides” in a deadly white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, his first stop was a meeting with Mr Trump’s children.
In a conversation in August 2017 with Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, Mr Cohn was shocked by her reaction to his concerns, according to a new book about Ms Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
“My dad’s not a racist; he didn’t mean any of it,” Ivanka Trump said of the president’s refusal to condemn white nationalists outright. Appearing to channel her father, she added, “That’s not what he said.”
Mr Cohn, who did not respond to a request for comment, ultimately did not resign over the Charlottesville episode, instead leaving after losing a battle over trade policy last year. But the incident permanently changed his view of Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner, who are often painted as moderating influences on the president, according to Kushner Inc., by journalist Vicky Ward.
The book, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press on 19 March, seeks to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner’s rise to extraordinary power in the White House. Ms Ward has said she spent two years interviewing 220 people for the book, granting many of them anonymity.
Her account is not a flattering one, and White House officials have dismissed the book and any coverage of it.
She portrays Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner as two children forged by their domineering fathers – one over-involved with his son, one disengaged from his daughter – who have climbed to positions of power by disregarding protocol and skirting the rules when they can. And Ms Ward tries to unravel the narrative that the two serve as stabilising voices inside an otherwise chaotic White House, depicting them instead as Donald Trump’s chief enablers.
The portrait that emerges, according to Mr Kushner’s camp, is far removed from reality. “Every point that Ms Ward mentioned in what she called her ‘fact checking’ stage was entirely false,” Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement. “It seems she has written a book of fiction rather than any serious attempt to get the facts. Correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless.”
Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner wanted to control who could travel on trips funded by the State Department, Ms Ward wrote, citing a source at the department. Ivanka Trump also often apparently requested to travel on Air Force planes when it was not appropriate. When Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, would deny the requests, the couple would invite along a Cabinet secretary, often Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to get access to a plane.
Over the past two years, Donald Trump has waffled on whether he wanted his children serving in his administration. When he hired John Kelly as his chief of staff, a move that Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner supported at the time, he gave an early directive: “Get rid of my kids; get them back to New York.”
Donald Trump complained, according to the book, that his children “didn’t know how to play the game” and generated cycles of bad press. Mr Kelly responded that it would be difficult to fire them, but he and the president agreed that they would make life difficult enough to force the pair to offer their resignations, which the president would then accept.
Ivanka Trump and Mr Kushner, however, have outlasted those plans, and Donald Trump’s desire for them to leave the West Wing has come and gone in waves, associates said. Kelly resigned in December, and the couple has only gained in power since his departure.
If there is sympathy in Ms Ward’s book for her protagonists, it is found in explaining how they grew up. Ivanka Trump, she wrote, was wealthy but isolated. When she went to tour Choate Rosemary Hall, the elite Connecticut boarding school where she would attend high school, Ms Trump arrived in a white stretch limousine. But she emerged from the car all by herself. “No one was there with her,” said her tour guide, who remained anonymous in the book.
Mr Kushner’s father, meanwhile, had been grooming his son since childhood to become his successor in the family real estate company, Kushner Cos. When Mr Kushner went away to Harvard, Ms Ward wrote, his parents had a business associate keep an eye on him – by taking him out for dinner and reporting back on his activities – to make sure he was not dating non-Jews or doing drugs.
When Mr Kushner and Ivanka Trump decided to get married, both sets of parents were sceptical. Ivanka Trump eventually won over the Mr Kushners with her commitment to a gruelling religious conversion regimen and her apparent intense desire to become part of a close-knit family.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, did not understand why his daughter had to change her religion for anyone, even though he liked Mr Kushner. He would joke that Ivanka Trump could have married Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, and once joked to Robert Kraft, the team’s owner, that “Jared is half the size of Tom Brady’s forearm.”
The New York Times