'Born Trump' Examines The 'Emotional Hold' The President Has On His Family

Jun 21, 2018
Originally published on July 13, 2018 10:27 am

Much has been written about Donald Trump as a politician and as a businessman, but a new book by Vanity Fair journalist Emily Jane Fox looks at the president through a different lens: as the head of a family.

Fox's new book, Born Trump: Inside America's First Family, focuses on Trump's three marriages and five children — as well as on his relationship with son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

Fox describes Trump as an unconventional father who "spent time with the children on his terms, when it suited him, when he was doing something he already cared about." When they were younger, he'd allow the children to tag along to golf courses or construction sites, all the while coaching them not to trust anyone — including their own father.

"Even though he didn't spend a lot of time with them, his presence is overwhelming," Fox says. "The emotional hold he had over his kids was really strong."


Interview Highlights

On the possibility that Ivanka Trump helped convince her father to sign an executive order on June 20 to end the separation of families at the U.S. border

Knowing what I know having reported on Ivanka Trump for Vanity Fair for almost three years now ... it's hard to make that justification that she would be the person who has that much influence, only because we have seen time and time again stories leaked to the press about [how] Ivanka expressed her concern over the travel ban, Ivanka expressed her concern behind the scenes over the Paris Climate Accord. And in those instances, her private advocacy made no difference.

She expressed public advocacy in the Roy Moore campaign — she made a statement saying there's a special place in hell for people who mistreat children, something to that effect — and that again had no effect on her father. So I think it would be significantly overstating her influence to say that the president changed his mind on Wednesday because of what Ivanka Trump showed him on Tuesday.

On what we know about the Trump children's political views

Besides Don Jr. ... none of them ... is particularly political. ... They had donated to Democrats in the past. Ivanka Trump hosted a fundraiser for Cory Booker in the past at her home, with her husband Jared Kushner. Neither Ivanka nor Eric were able to vote in the New York primary for their father because they're not registered as Republicans.

So these are not people who have a very strong set of partisan political beliefs — with the exception of Don Jr. who is a true conservative. He is a Republican. He is someone who has been floated to be a possible candidate for governor. He has a deep set of conservative political views, which he has been public about for years, perhaps longer than his father had been public about his political views.

On how Trump's three oldest children — Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka — didn't expect their father to win the election

The two sons had spent a tremendous amount of time throughout the campaign traveling to city to city, smaller cities in the middle of the country, certainly places that didn't have a Trump-branded hotel. ... These were not places where the constituents were used to seeing the Trump name everywhere, so they saw dollar signs in these places. They saw a constituent base who would soon turn into a consumer base for them. So they were focusing on being able to open a lower-tiered line of hotels that would serve the kinds of people who were going to support their father in his bid for the presidency, and be able to turn them over into customers. ...

[For Ivanka], there was going to be some sort of rebranding effort for her fashion brand, and that was going to take up the bulk of her time. The idea, I remember reporting, was to let everything cool down a bit, let some strong holiday sales speak for themselves in December, and then come January perhaps Ivanka would get out there a little bit more and start really being the face of her brand again. That was what she had thought what would happen to her.

On SNL's parody of Eric Trump as dim-witted

The people who know him and particularly people who have worked with him in his role in the Trump Organization told me that is completely off. He is the one who is actually very focused on detail, very good at understanding what goes into construction and building and running golf clubs the way they need to be run, and the winery that they have, that is all him. ... The satire of the children and the parodies and the imitations of them get Eric the most wrong of all of the children.

On former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's story about why Trump wanted five children

[Cohen] said to me, "Look, what you have to understand is that Donald Trump had five kids because he thought the chance of him having one child who is exactly like him was high, the probability was good, the numbers were in his favor."

But what ended up happening was that each child was sort of, [Cohen] said, a "mini Voltron" of [Trump]. Each child had one quality of Donald's that got passed down to them individually, and together, if you put these "mini Voltrons" together, they made up one Donald.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Martina Stewart adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Emily Jane Fox, is the author of the new book "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." Fox is a senior reporter at Vanity Fair and describes her beat as the White House and the characters around Trumpland. She writes, this is a first family with no equivalent. President Donald Trump is in the White House with a first lady who is his third wife and two senior West Wing advisers to whom he is related. His two adult sons are back in New York running the family business from which the president opted not to divest.

Fox's book is not only about Trump's children and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. It's also about his marriages and divorces and their impact on his children. We recorded our interview yesterday after the president announced that he would soon sign an executive order ending the policy of separating parents and children who have crossed the border illegally.

Emily Jane Fox, welcome to FRESH AIR. So let's start with the role of Trump's family, to your knowledge, and the president's decision to sign an executive order ending the policy of separating parents from their children rather than keeping them together in detention if they've crossed the border illegally.

EMILY JANE FOX: I think if anyone were to play a role in any of this, it would be Ivanka Trump. She is in the White House, and there was a report out on Tuesday that she had spoken with her father on Tuesday, showed him some photos of children in these situations, and had expressed her concern with the situation.

Knowing what I know, having reported on Ivanka Trump for Vanity Fair for almost three years now, and reporting in the book for about a year and a half, it's hard to make that justification that she would be the person who has that much influence, only because we have seen, time and time again, stories leaked to the press about, oh, Ivanka expressed her concern over the travel ban. Ivanka expressed her concern behind-the-scenes over the Paris climate accord. And in those instances, her private advocacy made no difference.

She expressed public advocacy in the Roy Moore campaign. She made a statement saying there's a special place in hell for people who mistreat children - something to that effect. And that, again, had no effect on her father. So I think it would be significantly overstating her influence to say that the president changed his mind on Wednesday because of what Ivanka Trump showed him on Tuesday.

GROSS: How often do the president's children challenge him on policies or try to prevent gaffes? And are his sons - do they have any more sway over him than you say Ivanka does?

FOX: His sons have far less sway then Ivanka does. Because of their relationship, I think, he has always favored Ivanka more than his sons. But she's also in the White House in a senior position in the West Wing. So she is certainly closer to him in proximity, and that matters in Trumpland. She is also more engaged in the policies than her brothers are, certainly.

And I think that they have, at least in name, have - are supposed to have a bit of a separation when it comes to politics in the business. That was their intended arrangement. I don't know if that is always the case. But I think, certainly, on the more moderate positions, Ivanka falls sort of toward the more moderate end of the spectrum, whereas Don Jr. is far more conservative than his sister and his brother, and perhaps even his father.

GROSS: What are his politics? And what are the children's politics? I know they've supported their father. I haven't gotten a really clear sense of where they stand on things independently.

FOX: I don't think that they're - besides Don Jr., which I will get to, but none of them - and I don't think that the president is particularly political. I don't think that the children were particularly political either. They had donated to Democrats in the past. Ivanka Trump hosted a fundraiser for Cory Booker in the past at her home with her husband Jared Kushner. Neither Ivanka nor Eric were able to vote in the New York primary for their father because they were not registered as Republicans.

So these are not people who have a very strong set of partisan political beliefs, with the exception of Don Jr., who is a true conservative. He is a Republican. He is someone who has been floated to be a possible candidate for governor. He has a deep set of conservative political views, which he has been public about for years, perhaps longer than his father had been public about his political views.

GROSS: So you did a lot of interviews for this book, including people who'd been classmates of Trump's children. And among the things you write, you say that Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric all assumed, until Election Day, that their father would lose and that the children would be able to get back to their normal lives and businesses, and that they could use all the publicity they got during the campaign to enhance their brands.

So let's talk about what their plans were going to be after the election, when they thought that their father was going to lose. You say that Don and Eric were talking with investors and partners about a new, lower-tier chain of hotels in heartland cities. Tell us about that.

FOX: Sure. So the two sons had spent a tremendous amount of time throughout the campaign traveling from city to city to city - smaller cities in the middle of the country, certainly places that did not have a Trump-branded hotel. They weren't places like Chicago or New York. They weren't on the West Coast. These were not places where the constituents were used to seeing the Trump name everywhere.

And so they saw dollar signs in these places. They saw a constituent base who would soon turn into a consumer base for them. So they were focusing on being able to open a lower-tier line of hotels that would serve the kinds of people who were going to support their father in his bid for the presidency and be able to turn them over into customers.

GROSS: And what were Ivanka's plans after her father lost the election, which is what she thought would happen?

FOX: I remember working on the Friday before election. I was working on a story with people who were working on her brand at the time about what was going to happen that Wednesday morning - what the plan was to rehabilitate her fashion brand because it had suffered some throughout the campaign. It had changed in its demographic. There weren't a tremendous amount of people on the coasts, in major cities who were going to be very excited to go out and buy an Ivanka Trump dress at that point in time.

But there were people who were in the middle of the country - places that her brothers were looking at opening hotels in - who were new customers to the brand. So there was going to be some sort of rebranding effort for her fashion brand. And that was going to take up the bulk of her time. The idea I remember reporting was to kind of let everything cool down a bit, let some strong holiday sales speak for themselves in December. And then, come January, perhaps Ivanka would get out there a little bit more and start really being the face of her brand again. And so that was what she had thought would happen to her.

And Jared had people around him saying, look, buddy, your reputation is not what it once was. You're going to have to go through a total reputation reboot once this starts. And his response was, I know.

GROSS: So he was going to go on a reputational tour?

FOX: Yeah, he was going to do some sort of glad-handing, some sort of - I think, much like Ivanka, was going to let time run its course a bit. But he fully understood that it was going to be an uphill battle for him to get his reputation in the New York real estate world - the sort of liberal, elite crowd that they ran in. They needed some time to let what happened heal a little bit, and then eventually get back to business as usual in his family real estate business.

GROSS: The central paradox of your book, in my opinion, is that Donald Trump did not spend that much time with his children when they were growing up. But the three children that he had in his first marriage with Ivana Trump all went into his business, and they're all now a part of either his business or his administration. And that seems like such a shift. You know, that they were relatively estranged from him - can I say that? - during their formative years.

FOX: Sure.

GROSS: And now they're such a part of his inner circle.

FOX: There are a few reasons for that. I think that their father was not a traditional father in any sense of the word. And, in fact, he was a pretty bad father. And he had really little to do...

GROSS: When you say bad, what do you mean? That can mean so many things.

FOX: Sure. I'll be more specific. He was not present. He didn't spend much time with them at all. He was not the kind of father who took them to the park to throw balls around. He was not the kind of father who changed diapers. He spent time with the children on his terms, when it suited him, when he was doing something he already cared about. So if he was going to a construction site and the kids wanted to tag along, that was fine. If he was going to play golf and they wanted to play golf with him, that was fine. If he was going down to his resort in Palm Beach, they could tag along. That was fine, or if they didn't, that was also fine. The emotional hold he had over his children was very strong. And even though he didn't spend a lot of time with them, his presence is overwhelming.

And there are a number of people in the Trump orbit who are not related to him who say there's an intoxication when you're around Donald Trump. And you may know he's not a good guy or you may know he's doing things that you don't necessarily agree with or saying things that you think are over the line, but there's something intoxicating about him. And his children, who are his own flesh and blood who idealized him despite his flaws, were intoxicated by it perhaps more than anybody. So that is - that's one reason.

And the other reason is they saw their father as a golden ticket. Taking a job in the Trump Organization, especially around the time when they were graduating college, was very lucrative, especially when Eric joined. It was almost around the time of "The Apprentice," and so they were already not only making a fair amount of money, but they were fairly famous.

And so could they have gone out and struck out on their own? Sure. And Ivanka tried that for a year or two and Don Jr. spent a year in Aspen after college trying to find himself and really figure out if he wanted to join the Trump Organization. But at the end of the day, it was an easy way to the top. They joined the Trump Organization in executive roles. They didn't have to work particularly hard to become high-level executives at a company that was going to make them a lot of money.

GROSS: Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer who is now under investigation by the Southern District of New York, told you a story about why Trump said he wanted five children. Do you want to tell us the story?

FOX: Sure. It was the first time I interviewed Michael Cohen. It was at the end of last summer. And I was asking him a bunch of questions, just generally trying to gauge the relationship between the siblings because he worked so closely with all of them and understands their relationship, especially over the last decade, maybe better than anybody. And he said to me, look; what you have to understand is that Donald Trump had five kids because he thought he could have - the chance of him having one child who was exactly like him was high, the probability was good, the numbers were in his favor.

But what ended up happening is that each child was sort of a what he said was a mini Voltron of him. Each child had one quality of Donald's that got passed down to them individually. And together, if you put these mini Voltrons together, they made up one Donald.

GROSS: Eric - when it comes to, like, the comedians who satirize the Trump family, Eric is always satirized the dumb brother. Is that fair?

FOX: No, I don't think so, not based on all the reporting I did. Actually, the people who know him, and particularly people who have worked with him in his role at the Trump Organization, told me that is completely off. He is the one who is actually very focused on detail, very good at understanding what goes into construction and building and running golf clubs the way they need to be run and the winery that they have. That is all him. He's also - happens to be the most charitable out of all of them. He's someone who actually cares about that and ran a foundation that he really did care about. And so the satire of the children and the parodies and the imitations of them get Eric the most wrong then of all of the children.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Emily Jane Fox, a reporter for Vanity Fair. And her new book is called "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." We'll be right back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOAN JEANRENAUD'S "AXIS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Vanity Fair reporter Emily Jane Fox. Her new book is called "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." Donald Trump has been very anti-immigrant with an emphasis on immigrants who have crossed the border illegally [inaudible] from former Soviet bloc countries, Ivana from Czechoslovakia, Melania from Slovenia. Let's talk briefly about the routes that they took to become citizens. Let's start with Ivana.

FOX: So Ivana had a very interesting life pre coming to New York to meet Donald Trump. So she grew up in Czechoslovakia. She actually married a man elsewhere in Europe - I believe in Prague - in order to escape Czechoslovakia. She - it was a time where she wanted to get out. She wanted to do her own thing. She was a very competitive skier. And she did not want to be stuck there. So she got married in sort of a sham marriage in order to get out. She was dating another man at the time who moved to Canada, so she went over to Canada to be with him and to stay with some extended relatives over there. And that's when she continued skiing but started modeling.

And she booked a modeling gig in Manhattan and went to Manhattan, and the other models who were traveling with her convinced her to go out to a restaurant in New York. And who happened to be at that restaurant in New York at the time but Donald Trump, who took a liking to her. And very soon thereafter, they were in Aspen, and he said to her, marry me, it's the best deal you'll ever get - something to that effect. And she said, yes. And not long after that, they were married. And very soon after that, Don Jr. was born. So it was a very quick courtship and a very easy way for her to land herself in the center of Manhattan. That was her way that she immigrated here to this country.

GROSS: To your knowledge, was the marriage to the Austrian man purely a marriage of convenience to get a passport that would enable her to travel to live someplace else but to still return to Czechoslovakia to see her family?

FOX: Yes, exactly right. She wanted to be able to leave, but she also wanted to be able to come back. And that was her main objective with the marriage. And I believe the man that she married was fully aware of that situation and was just trying to help her out in that situation.

GROSS: So emotionally, she was still with her boyfriend, even though she was married to the Austrian man.

FOX: Yes. This is how she has described the situation over and over again, that it was a true marriage of convenience.

GROSS: And she became an American citizen by marrying Donald Trump, which isn't to say that that's why she married him, but that's how she became an American citizen.

FOX: Exactly. Yes.

GROSS: OK. So Melania Trump, how did she initially get to live in the U.S.?

FOX: So she came to the United States, again, for modeling. But she was living here well before she met Donald Trump at a nightclub in midtown. And she was actually disillusioned when she first moved here. She couldn't book modeling jobs the way she had been able to book them when she was living in Europe. And she was going on casting calls and shoots for alcohol and tobacco and wasn't really hitting her stride here.

And so at the moment where she met Donald Trump, she was considering leaving in order to get back to the kind of modeling job she was able to book easier when she was living in Europe. But she did meet Donald Trump, and she ended up dating him for many years before they got married but was able to come to the U.S. in the first - the first instance because of her modeling and then stay ultimately because of her marriage.

GROSS: So Melania first came to the U.S. on what's called an H1-B visa.

FOX: Right.

GROSS: What kind of visa is that? Because I should say, Donald Trump during his campaign called these visas - visas for temporary foreign workers imported from abroad for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. So he was like opposed to the kind of visa that enabled Melania to work in the U.S. So explain what that visa is and how she was able to get one because you describe this as a visa for high-skilled workers like engineers and computer whizzes with advanced degrees.

FOX: Sure. So these are visas that typically go to highly skilled, highly-educated workers - engineers, people who work in computer sciences. They're not particularly easy to get. But there was a time - and I'm certain it is different now - but there was a time that there was some sort of loophole in which models could somehow enter using these visas. And Melania Trump was able to take advantage of that sort of leniency when it came to models using these visas.

GROSS: My guest is Vanity Fair reporter Emily Jane Fox, author of the new book "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." We'll talk more after a break. And book critic Maureen Corrigan will review a history of the family road trip titled "Don't Make Me Pull Over!" and a new edition of "Main-Travelled Roads." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Emily Jane Fox, author of the new book "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." She says this is a first family with no equivalent. The president has been married three times, has two senior West Wing advisers to whom he is related - Ivanka and Jared - and two adult sons - Eric and Don Jr. - who are running the family business from which the president opted not to divest. Fox is a Vanity Fair reporter who describes her beat as the White House and the characters around Trumpland.

Trump's marriages and divorces and affairs were in the tabloids. Did he court them? Did he want that kind of coverage?

FOX: Absolutely. This was particularly true with his divorce from Ivana. There was sort of a tabloid war where the Daily News in New York was pro-Ivana and the New York Post was pro-Donald because Donald was the greatest source for the New York Post, and Ivana was leaking to the Daily News. And so there was column after column, and they would kind of swing at one another. One day, there would be one in the Daily News that was poor Ivana, heartsick. And the next day would be the now-infamous cover of the New York Post, the "best sex I've ever had," supposedly quoting Marla talking about Donald, though she has denied that she ever said that.

And so in that divorce, the tabloids were everything, and that tabloid war had a profound impact on the children. These kids were 12, 8 and 6 years old. And the paparazzi, because of the frenzy that both Donald and Ivana created around the divorce, were chasing these kids to school, holding up the headline, saying, what do you think of this? What do you think of that? All the other kids in school knew about it, and so they would tease them about it or bring it up or whisper about it. And it got so bad that Ivana had to pull the kids out of school and move them down to Palm Beach for a few months. It isolated them and insulated them from a lot of the frenzy that was happening in New York and was a time in the kids' lives that was very chaotic but also allowed them to turn inward and rely on one another because there was no one else around.

GROSS: What did Donald Trump do to encourage tabloid coverage, and why did he want that coverage? There's a lot of people who try very hard to stay out of the tabloids.

FOX: This is someone who truly believes that all press is good press, even when it is really bad press. And for him, the divorce, I think, was about winning. He didn't want the solely sympathetic view that I think most people would ultimately take because this is a man who was leaving his wife and mother of his three children for a younger Southern actress, and it wasn't a good business decision to make that kind of public choice. And so when the initial reaction was to perhaps side with Ivana, he said, well, I'm going to change the narrative, and I'm going to make this about me being a lady's man; I'm not going to make this about, oh, poor Ivana; I'm going to make this about, wow, good for Donald.

GROSS: Each of the three women that have been married to Donald Trump, including the first lady, had some period of their life where they were models. And after Donald Trump met Melania, you say he wanted to, like, nudge forward her career, and he wanted her to pose for a photo shoot for British GQ, a special edition headlined "Naked Supermodel Special!" Tell us about that edition and Donald Trump's role in having Melania pose for it.

FOX: He has always wanted his wives to be famous - same with his daughter. He wanted them to be famous, and he wanted them to be lusted after. This was true for Marla, as well. The - probably the best period in their relationship - between Donald and Marla - was when she had a part in a Broadway show. And he was intoxicated with the fact that people thought she was actually kind of OK, and that she was sort of a star, and people were paying attention to her and giving her buzz. And that was - of a very rocky courtship and relationship and sort of a toxic one, that was the high point of their relationship because he felt like she was being adored and sort of elevated him because of her own stardom. And that was certainly true with Melania, as well.

So this photo shoot was very much in line with that sort of mentality and mindset. That his new girlfriend would be pictured on the cover of a magazine in a very suggestive way meant something to him because he wanted people to lust after what he had, whether that was a building or a hotel or a girlfriend. It was important for him to be someone who people aspired to or thought was a man about town. And these photos - you know, you see them around every now and again, but looking at the photo shoot in full, as I did when I was researching this, I - it's very hard to square those images with someone who is now the first lady of the United States.

GROSS: Well, the wing-of-the-plane photo - Melania's wearing a red thong and a red bra or bikini top, sunglasses, posed on the wing of a plane and pointing a gun. It's the combo of, like, sex and violence in that shot.

FOX: She sort of looks like a Bond girl.

GROSS: Do you have any idea how Melania felt about that photo shoot and if that was the way she wanted to be represented in her modeling career?

FOX: Melania doesn't do what she doesn't want to do. She very much has her own set of beliefs and values and opinions. Particularly now, and how she is perceived, it's hard for me to imagine that she was going to agree to do something that she didn't want to do. I know that they saw the photos ahead of time because Donald insisted on having them messengered over to his office as soon as the magazine had them. So this - it's not like she was surprised by these images, and he certainly was not surprised by these images. And she is very strong-willed and very self-disciplined, and it would just be very difficult for me to imagine that she would put herself in a situation that she wasn't going to be OK with.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Emily Jane Fox. She's a reporter for Vanity Fair who describes her beat as the White House and the characters around Trumpland. And her new book is called "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." We'll be right back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEASTIE BOYS' "TRANSITIONS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Emily Jane Fox, author of the new book "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family." She's a reporter for Vanity Fair, whose beat she describes as the White House and the characters around Trumpland.

When Ivanka married Jared, or perhaps before they actually got married, she converted to Judaism. They are modern Orthodox Jews. What does modern Orthodox mean?

FOX: Modern Orthodox means she's not covering her head as some traditional Orthodox Jewish women do. She's not exclusively wearing long skirts. She shakes hands with men who are not her husband. So there are some customs that they don't follow that perhaps more traditional Orthodox women do. But they do observe Shabbat. So from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday - well, before the campaign and White House, they didn't travel in cars or planes. They didn't use technology. You're not supposed to work at all. There's no sort of work or use of technology in any way, shape or form. They keep kosher in their homes. They celebrate the Jewish holidays in full. And there are many of them.

So their lives pre-administration were very much devoted to their religion. Their children go to religious schools. They go - they went to temple every Saturday. This is something that they practice a lot with Jared's family, who is also Orthodox. And it's something that's very important to the Kushner family. A lot of that has changed since they joined the administration. First, in the inauguration, they got special permission from a rabbi to travel by car on the night of inauguration when there were the inaugural balls because it was a security concern for them to have to walk. So their rabbi granted them special permission.

GROSS: So there's a big rift in the Kushner family that dates back years, and part of that rift early on was caused by a sex tape that I'd like you to explain.

FOX: What was happening is that Jared's father, Charlie, was being investigated for some campaign donations, some fraud allegations, some business practices that he engaged in. And it started because a former business partner sued him over something, and it caught the attention of a U.S. attorney in New Jersey where they all lived. And that U.S. attorney happened to be Chris Christie. So everything old becomes new again in Trump world. And this was the original appearance of Chris Christie in the Trump universe.

So Charlie Kushner got caught in the crosshairs of Chris Christie. Chris Christie was starting to look into some of the donations he was making, some of the business practices he was engaging in. And Charlie Kushner believed that his brother-in-law and his sister were cooperating with Christie's investigation. So what did he decide to do but hire a prostitute to meet his brother-in-law at a diner in their town in New Jersey and proposition him. And the woman that he hired asked him to go back to her motel room. And at first, he just dropped her off. But the next morning, he came back and met her in her motel room. And in that motel room was a hidden camera planted in the alarm clock in the motel room. And it caught his brother-in-law and the prostitute engaging in some activity you - most people would not want to see their brother-in-laws engaged in.

That footage from the motel room was then brought back to Charlie Kushner in his office, and he covered the walls of a glass conference room with newspaper so that he could watch it in his office. And he ordered it to be copied. And when he believed he was really - when his sister and brother-in-law were really cooperating, he put the tape into an envelope and sent it to his sister.

GROSS: To try to prevent them from cooperating further with Chris Christie's investigation.

FOX: Yes. He was eventually charged with witness tampering because it was tampering with witnesses that - people who were potentially going to cooperate with the government. And so what he was trying to do was scare them away or shame them away from cooperating with Christie's investigation.

GROSS: And what was the outcome?

FOX: Charlie Kushner was - pled guilty to 18 counts of fraud and campaign finance violations and went to prison in Alabama.

GROSS: And so this is why Jared Kushner does not like Chris Christie...

FOX: You can imagine why.

GROSS: ...And didn't want him to be the transition - to lead the transition team.

FOX: There was tension - exactly, exactly. So Chris Christie had a deep suspicion of people with the last name of Kushner for good reason. And Jared Kushner had deep suspicion of Chris Christie. One thing that people around this universe told me was that Jared particularly held on to one grudge when it came to Chris Christie - that the Kushner family believed that Charlie Kushner was going to be released to a halfway house 28 days early, and they were so looking forward to it. Charlie Kushner was truly the patriarch of the family. He was the sun around which everyone orbited.

And so having him out 28 days early, four weeks early, was just the best news they could all ever hope for. And they were all planning for it and preparing for it. And Chris Christie got wind of the fact that he was going to be let out early and personally put his foot down and said, no, this guy is staying those extra four weeks. And so Jared never let go of the fact that Chris Christie made his father's stay in for those extra 28 days. And that was part of the reason why he had such a hard time with Christie being brought back in to lead the transition and ultimately what led to his ousting.

GROSS: Did Jared and his father remain close during this period which was - what? - starting in 2004? I think that's when the charges were.

FOX: Right, exactly. And Jared, I believe, was about 25 and was thrust into the center of running a very large real estate company that operated primarily in New Jersey, but all up and down the East Coast. And this is a kid who was still getting his graduate degree. He had no business experience. But because his dad was going away for more than a year, he had to step up. And so he would visit his father every Sunday because he couldn't fly on Shabbat and would sit with his father and then fly back to New York and work the entire week and then do it all again the next week. So they were and are incredibly close. They still speak every single day.

GROSS: So one of the people you're covering now for Vanity Fair is Michael Cohen, President Trump's long-term personal lawyer and fixer who is being investigated. And as I'm sure everybody remembers, lots of documents and tapes were taken from his home and his office. So he has a new lawyer now, Guy Petrillo. So what can you tell us about Cohen's new lawyer and why Cohen might have chosen him?

FOX: I will tell you that this is something that Michael Cohen has been interested in doing for quite some time. He wanted a lawyer who understands the ins and outs of the Southern District of New York. And Guy Petrillo is someone who understands the ins and outs of the Southern District of New York. He served as the head of the criminal division for about a year and a half, from 2008 to 2009. He's someone who tries cases in this area - cases having to do with money laundering, cases having to do with special investigations. This is someone who understands the area of law and the kinds of people that Michael Cohen could come up against in the coming weeks and months very well. And that is something that he was very interested in finding.

GROSS: So big question now is about whether Michael Cohen will talk in return for a better deal. Do you have any insights?

FOX: Here's what I know. I know that Michael Cohen feels incredibly frustrated and angry with the president. I think something that really angered him was last week when the president was on the lawn of the White House answering reporters and the president was asked a question about Michael Cohen. And he said I liked him...

GROSS: Past tense.

FOX: ...In the past tense. And the reaction of people around Cohen who are very familiar with his thinking was that was the stupidest thing the president could have ever said. Michael Cohen is essentially on the verge of making this decision about whether or not he will cooperate with the government, if it comes - if the government is willing to offer up that to him. And they have not - as far as I know from my reporting, they have not offered him that option yet. But someone who could be facing that decision very soon - to say something that could potentially set him off like that, these people felt like that is just not the wisest move to be making right now.

And I think that not only has Michael Cohen felt like someone who has been very loyal to the president for a very long time is now being mistreated but he is someone who did a lot for the children as well and worked very closely with the children for years and knows what they were doing and knows what the president was doing. And so to not receive the kind of support that he wants to receive from the president is one thing. But he also hasn't received that kind of support from Ivanka or Eric or Don Jr. And I think that that has been rankling him as well.

GROSS: Emily Jane Fox, thank you so much for talking with us.

FOX: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Emily Jane Fox is the author of the new book "Born Trump: Inside America's First Family."

After a break, Maureen Corrigan will review a new history of the family road trip titled "Don't Make Me Pull Over!" and a new edition of "Main-Travelled Roads." This is FRESH AIR.

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