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EXPLAINED: Is Jared Kushner Family Feud With Chris Christie Torpedoing Trump Transition?

Donald Trump’s presidential effort has been notorious for its infighting, and that doesn’t seem likely to change as he prepares to take the Oval Office next January. As different advisers to the president-elect compete to influence his decisions on appointments, one aide described the process to Politico as an “absolute knife fight.” At the center of the battle is lingering animosity between Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and prominent surrogate Chris Christie.

More than a decade ago, the current New Jersey governor and former prosecutor put Kushner’s father, the real estate developer Charles Kushner, in prison for witness tampering, illegal campaign donations and tax evasion. And if signs are to be trusted, the son has not forgiven the sins committed against the father.

What’s Happening With the Transition?

Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday that Jared Kushner has been attempting to sideline Christie and his allies in the transition process, something that has slowed down the effort considerably. Earlier in the week, Jared Kushner helped oust the Christie-appointed Mike Rogers, the former head of the Intelligence Committee, as leader of the transition’s national security team.

This comes on the heels of last Thursday’s departure of Christie as the head of the transition. He was replaced at the top of the operation by Mike Pence following the president-elect’s upset victory in last week’s contest.

Christie has been clouded by scandal related to the Bridgegate controversy — the incident in which Christie advisers shut down the George Washington Bridge three years ago to retaliate against a local mayor who refused to endorse his reelection campaign. Two of his aides were convicted this month for crimes related to this episode.

What’s the Deal With Charles Kushner and Christie?

Christie made his name in the Bush administration on the strength of his anti-corruption prosecutions, most of them directed at Democratic Party officials and donors in the state of New Jersey. He took on Charles Kushner, then a prominent donor to Democrats and the owner of tens of thousands of apartment units in the state.

Charles Kushner pled guilty to allegations of tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions in connection to his political activities and was sentenced to two years in jail. Christie exulted in the victory, at the time declaring according to CNN that the prosecution “sends a strong message that when you commit the vile and heinous acts that he has committed, you will be caught and punished.” Charles Kushner was also expelled from the New Jersey bar.

Jared Kushner said that what happened to his father struck him as wrong, confiding that it made him no longer want to be a prosecutor — an ambition in his early adulthood. “Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him,” said Kushner, according to comments reported by CNN. “I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong. The moral weight of that was probably a bit more than I could carry.”

How Much Power Does Jared Kushner Have in the New Administration?

Kushner, married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has brandished significant power over the Republican leader’s campaign, pushing his father-in-law to run a more disciplined operation and to dismiss some advisers, including the initial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Kushner has been the head of the cleanup operation at the election’s worst momenta, heading to Trump Tower on the October Shabbat after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that showed the candidate bragging about committing sexual assault. He was also rumored as a possible choice for chief of staff in the Trump White House, but it now seems more likely that he will remain as a behind-the-scenes adviser wielding huge influence.

Contact Daniel J. Solomon at solomon@forward.com or on Twitter @DanielJSolomon

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