WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called it “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he ever prosecuted as U.S. attorney.
After Charles Kushner discovered his brother-in-law was cooperating with federal authorities, the wealthy real estate executive and father of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared, hatched a scheme for revenge and intimidation.
Kushner hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law, then arranged to have the encounter in a New Jersey motel room recorded with a hidden camera and the recording sent to his own sister, the man’s wife.
The scheme didn't work. Kushner later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and making illegal campaign donations in a case tailor-made for tabloid headlines.
On Wednesday Trump pardoned Kushner as part of a late-hour clemency spree during the final days of his presidency that has included a slew of campaign aides and allies, among them four of the six Trump associates convicted in the Mueller investigation. He has granted clemency to nearly 50 people in the last week.
The White House in its announcement cited Kushner's charitable work since he completed his sentence in 2006 as the reason he deserved clemency.
“This record of reform and charity overshadows Mr. Kushner’s conviction and 2 year sentence for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements" to the Federal Election Commission, the White House said, adding that Kushner's case had been championed by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and others.
Not mentioned: Kushner's relationship to Jared Kushner, the senior Trump adviser who is married to Trump's eldest daughter, Ivanka, and who, inspired by his father's time in prison, pushed Trump to back criminal justice reform legislation and has been an integral part of the administration's clemency efforts.
Christie did not respond to a request for comment on Trump's decision to pardon a man he'd sent to prison. But Christie, who headed Trump's transition and has informally advised the president for years, has made clear that he believes the senior Kushner deserved it.
“Mr. Kushner pled guilty. He admitted the crimes,” Christie told PBS last year as he promoted a book that blamed the younger Kushner for his firing from Trump's transition team. “And so 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?"
He added: “I mean its 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."
Kushner eventually pleaded guilty to 18 counts including tax evasion and witness tampering. He was sentenced in 2005 to two years in prison — the most he could receive under a plea deal, but less than Christie had sought.
Kushner also agreed to pay $508,900 to the FEC for violating contribution regulations by failing to obtain an OK from partners to whom more than $500,000 in contributions were credited.
He has since resumed his career in real estate, including purchasing the famed Watchtower complex along the Brooklyn Bridge, the former headquarters for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The younger Kushner has talked openly about how deeply his father's imprisonment impacted his life. He was in his early 20s and a law and business school student in the mid-2000s when his father was sentenced and suddenly found himself having to run the family's businesses while shuttling back and forth on weekends to see his father in Alabama.
“When you’re on the other side of the system, you feel so helpless,” Jared Kushner said in 2018. “I felt like, I was on this side of the system, so how can I try to do whatever I can do to try to be helpful to the people who are going through it” and deserve a second chance.
But Charles Kushner told The New York Times in 2018 that he wasn't interested in clemency, saying he “would prefer not to have a pardon” because it would garner publicity.
Long reported from Washington.