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The Son-In-Law Rises: Jared Kushner's Influence In The Trump Camp

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

As rumors swirl about who will end up in Donald Trump's inner circle at the White House, Jared Kushner is a name that keeps coming up. Kushner's a real estate mogul and the owner of the New York Observer. He's also Trump's son-in-law and became his close adviser on the campaign trail.

Sarah Ellison wrote a profile of Jared Kushner for Vanity Fair this summer, and she's with us now. Hi, welcome to the show.

SARAH ELLISON: Thanks so much for having me.

MCEVERS: The title of your piece was "How Jared Kushner Became Donald Trump's Mini-Me," and you write about how improbable it was that Kushner would end up such a close adviser to Donald Trump. Why?

ELLISON: Well, I think if you look at these two men on paper or in person, they appear polar opposites of one another. Donald Trump is brash and loud and courts a lot of media attention. Jared Kushner is very soft-spoken, understated. He has given so few interviews to the press that he is almost - I mean he's just a total enigma. And so to think of them ending up being such close confidants and having Jared Kushner be kind of the Donald whisperer of the campaign was really not something that people anticipated going into it.

What I discovered through my reporting is that Jared Kushner is way more ambitious, and he's a much better strategy person than anyone really thought he was going into this. And so I think that that's what we were talking about - is that this sort of quiet figure would become an improbable force in this very improbable campaign.

MCEVERS: And we should say we've reached out to Jared Kushner, asking for an interview - have not heard anything back yet. But he is also from a family of Democrats, right?

ELLISON: Yes. His family, the Kushners, were a very prominent Democratic family, and they held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. So it's - the dynamic is fascinating because people talk about how Jared Kushner is very loyal to his family, and he's such a hard worker. And yet in this one case, he has sort of betrayed the Democratic roots that his family grew up in.

MCEVERS: There's also a lot of talk about a rivalry between Jared Kushner and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who up until recently was head of Trump's transition team. What's going on there?

ELLISON: Well, the reason people are interested in that relationship is that Chris Christie was the prosecutor who sent Jared Kushner's father, Charlie Kushner, to jail back in 2005, and he went to prison on corruption-related charges. He was sentenced to two years in prison and spent one year in prison. And there is a notion that what Jared was doing when he ousted Chris Christie from the transition team was he was sort of avenging his father.

Now, people close to Jared tell me that that's not at all the case, that he was in fact removed because he had placed lobbyists in key roles on the transition team which automatically broke a campaign promise that Donald Trump had made. But even those denials don't do much to quell that very neat storyline that Jared Kushner is actually avenging his father many years later.

MCEVERS: We're seeing reports that Jared Kushner might get a role - an official role at the White House. What are your sources telling you about that?

ELLISON: My sources are telling me much of what you're probably hearing, which is that he is contemplating the possibility of taking on a senior role in the administration but that he's also contemplating the possibility of remaining a kind of unofficial adviser, but not moving to Washington, D.C.

One of the reasons that people are so fascinated by Jared Kushner is that he has had no role at all in anything close to politics up to this point I mean much like his father-in-law, and he's just such an unknown figure. I mean at least we knew Donald Trump as a reality television star and as a very bombastic figure. But Jared is so quiet, and he's so uninterested in courting press attention.

What I think people are really fascinated by is that, here is this name that you've really never heard before outside of a few New York society circles, and here he is potentially having one of the most important jobs - advising the president-elect of the United States.

MCEVERS: Sarah Ellison is a writer at Vanity Fair. Thank you so much.

ELLISON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.