Raise your hand if you’d like to know a little more about convicted felon and just-pardoned father of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. I thought so.
Once upon a time Charles Kushner, 66, served 14 months in a federal prison for tax evasion, making illegal campaign donations and witness tampering — and not your every day, garden variety type of witness tampering either. This witness tampering included Kushner hiring a hooker to have sex with his brother-in-law, filming the incident, and then delivering the tape to his sister to prevent her from testifying against him in court.
Kushner hatched his stupefying videotape revenge plot in 2003, after he realized his brother-in-law and former business partner William “Billy” Schulder, was helping authorities investigate his illegal campaign finance activities, and that his sister Esther was scheduled to testify about his financial crimes before a grand jury. The blackmail plot went like this: Kushner paid a prostitute $10,000 to lure his brother-in-law to a Red Bull Inn hotel room in Bridgewater, New Jersey and have sex with him. A hidden camera recorded the event, and Kushner arranged for the salacious videotape to be sent to his sister on the day of her son’s engagement party. The ploy backfired with the couple turning over the tape to prosecutors, and Kushner ended up with the additional charge of witness tampering as a result.
Prior to his fall from grace Kushner presided over a billion dollar real estate empire he’d built in New Jersey, was well connected in state politics, and known for his substantial philanthropy in the Jewish community. The judge who sentenced Kushner in 2005 wrestled with the defendant’s “generous” versus “revengeful, hateful” profiles, but ended up giving him the maximum penalty of 24 months allowed under the plea agreement he struck with prosecutors.
Fun fact — Kushner’s prosecution was overseen by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was U.S. attorney for the state at the time. Christie, who aggressively fought public corruption as a USA, called the Kushner case “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. attorney. And I was U.S. attorney in New Jersey.” Christie described the case in a PBS interview last year and said that was the reason he was fired from the Trump transition team in November 2016, at the urging of Charles Kushner’s son Jared Kushner, Trump presidential advisor and husband of “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump.
“… what am I supposed to do as a prosecutor? I mean, if a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, and videotapes it, and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that?”
Kushner’s clemency came in a second wave of presidential pardons last week that included Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his long-time friend and aid Roger Stone, both of whom had been charged as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election interference by Russia. Trump’s flurry of pardons has totaled nearly 50 so far, a predictable last gasp of power wielded to reward his wealthy inner-circle allies and foil his perceived enemies.
To be clear, this was an unnecessary pardon for events occurring nearly 18 years ago and for which Kushner completed his prison sentence in 2006. Kushner even told the New York Times in 2018 that he’d prefer not to be pardoned by Trump because of the publicity it would trigger. (You think?)
And even though the White House cited Kushner’s continued devotion to charitable causes like Saint Barnabas Medical Center and United Cerebral Palsy as a reason for his pardon, consider that this splashy clemency news appeared just three days after Christie announced he was not ruling out a 2024 presidential run even if that means challenging Trump. Christie was also one of the few Republicans in November to call out Trump’s failed legal efforts to overturn the election and urge him to concede to Joe Biden.
So the pardon of Charles Kushner seems less likely a symbol of forgiveness for a reformed man with a criminal past, than a poke in the eye to the man who prosecuted him and won’t drink the MAGA Kool-Aid.
But hey, unlike all the other convicted felons who haven’t been pardoned, at least now Kushner can vote in the next election. I’m sure it was worth it.