Transcript: Author of 'Kushner, Inc.' Vicky Ward's interview on ABC News' 'The Investigation' podcast

A transcript of Vicky Ward's interview as it appears in the latest episode.

ByABC News
March 19, 2019, 3:01 AM

Vicky Ward, the author of "Kushner, Inc." sat down for a wide-ranging interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast focused on the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. A transcript of Ward's interview as it appears in the episode of the podcast follows here:

ABC NEWS' KYRA PHILLIPS: Welcome to “The Investigation.” I'm Kyra Phillips here along with my cohost and the head of our investigation team Chris Vlasto. We're also joined by our senior investigative producer, Matt Mosk. And on today's episode we're going to be talking with New York Times best-selling author and investigative reporter, Vicky Ward. Her latest work "Kushner, Inc. Greed, Ambition, Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump" hits the shelves today from St. Martin's Press. Vicky, great to have you with us.

VICKY WARD: Thank you, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So, why did you want to write this book?

WARD: So, I think that the book's main theme really is about two people who we all hoped at the outset of this administration, would be the sort of moral center of it, would be moderating influences on a president known for his extreme character and extreme policies. And I think that there were signs right at the beginning that perhaps they weren't what they seemed. I set out to sort of see whether Washington would change them. And the answer I think is that, you know, the White House is very much now run kind of like a New York family business.

ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: I mean your description of them is not flattering. They are not going to like this book. Right?

WARD: No, I think that's, that's true. But I think you have to remember that the book is a result two years investigation. 220 different people were interviewed, 118 of them multiple times. You know, I do stress that it's a really investigative work, is that these are two people who are products of their upbringing. You know, Jared Kushner is someone who was, you know, when he worked for his father in the Kushner of family business - is somewhat imperious delegator, not a detail oriented person and that doesn't matter when you work for your family firm in New York. But it does - not knowing the details does matter when you get to Washington. And I think that they are now held to a much higher standard than they were before they went into the White House. You know, Ivanka Trump very early on seemed to use the transition as a sort of product placement for her fashion brand. And again these are things that shouldn't be the norms in our government or in a transition.

PHILLIPS: In your title I mean you even have the word corruption. It's Kushner, Inc., greed, ambition, corruption?

WARD: Yeah.

PHILLIPS: But you know where, where's the corruption? Where's the criminality? I mean to this point you know there hasn't been a prosecutor who has accused either one of them of a crime.

WARD: Right, well I'm not a prosecutor, I'm a journalist, but I think you see, you know, there's an example for - right at the beginning of the transition where Jared Kushner is conducting business on behalf of Kushner companies with the Chinese. And Gary Cohn who after all had sort of been very senior at Goldman Sachs when, you know, when he found out about this, he said Jared you know you can't do this. Everything you do from now on is going to look like you've gone into government to personally enrich yourself. I mean everybody around Jared Kushner was horrified. Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus all of them.

VLASTO: But, do you think it was naiveté or was it deliberate?

WARD: There is a disdain for rules, including the rule of law, you know, in the world of New York real estate. It's a very -

VLASTO: By the Kushner family or by?

WARD: I think the Kushners', they're very close knit family. There is a mistrust of outsiders. The whole way he's been raised - an entitled mindset.

ABC NEWS' MATT MOSK: There are some there are some great moments, Vicky, where you actually talk about people trying to counsel Jared and Ivanka about the things that you want to do you can't do in Washington you need to have a lawyer with you when you're making these phone calls.

WARD: Yeah.

MOSK: Can you tell us a little bit about what that, with now all the investigating that you've done, what you think the transition was like for them?

WARD: Well you know the transition starts right? In an extraordinary way. That the very first weekend Ivanka goes on "60 Minutes" and first of all tells a flat-out untruth. Which is that she's not going into the administration. When, meanwhile behind the scenes it's very clear she's making, there are plans for a Trump family office to be put into the East Wing until Melania Trump gets wind of it and immediately puts an end to that. So, and then she flashes up a bangle, you know, the bangle she's wearing. Where everyone is told that they can buy for ten thousand dollars the next day. You know as somebody senior in the transition said to me you know, you can't, although she apologized or her has a spokesman for her did, you can't un-see it. Right? And at the same time Jared, unbeknownst to anybody, is having this business meeting with a huge Chinese insurer, to try to, solve the Kushner's enormous financial albatross. This building in New York which threatened to break them financially and he doesn't tell anyone.

MOSK: But I think Chris' point was a good one, is this two people who really, don't really know what they're bargaining, for who are naïve? What did you conclude about what really was motivating them?

WARD: You know, most people go into government for public service. They do seem to have gone in for self-service, right? I mean there seems to be no doubt from the way that Ivanka kept putting herself in the room with foreign leaders or on the phone with foreign leaders whose countries happened to then give her fashion brand trademarks. I mean she, it was, you know, she came out with a line for one of her books. Perception is more important than reality. And it would seem though for as long as she possibly could she was going to try and, you know, play this for maximum benefit to her brand.

VLASTO: Actually that's what struck me the most because in the last say, Ivanka has been on the public eye now maybe three years, maybe three and a half in real spotlight? This is the first book that, or first real hard look at her and very critical look at her. Why do you think that exists? You think there's a double standard? It's always been Jared, Jared, Jared in the Mueller investigation but not her. Do you have any explanation?

WARD: I think the Mueller investigation will give the what to the sort of the why in a way of my book. I notice that the, you know, the questions that have come out from Chairman Nadler's committee actually do have a lot of concerns about - there are a lot of questions on there about Ivanka's business.

VLASTO: No, no, no. But the 81, the 81 people that got those first letters, Jared's mentioned. Ivanka's is not mentioned once.

PHILLIPS: But there's more than 50 individuals and organizations that were asked to turn over documents related to Ivanka and her business interests.

WARD: That's exactly right. Yes, that's what, really what I was getting at.

VLASTO: But not personally, not personally.

WARD: And then they've said she's not off the table, right?

PHILLIPS: Right. So is that hinting that they are looking at potential financial conflicts and could Ivanka be held accountable here? Could this go deeper? Could she find herself in trouble here?

WARD: Well I think, look there was enough smoke for people in the State Department and in the White House to be extremely upset and concerned by the very fact of her leaping on phone calls and going into meetings that they felt was inappropriate. Did they think she actually, you know, got on a phone call and said something blatantly illegal? No. It was, it was, but it was much more subtle than that. I think they feel that, you know, the general feeling was that Jared doesn't have Ivanka's subtlety which is perhaps why we are hearing his name a great deal more and he's made a great deal more many overt mistakes. But as to whether or not these two will be held accountable. You know I think they're - this goes two ways. Either they will as a combination of Congress and prosecutors or, you know, their path, their trajectory will continue as it has which seemingly is remarkably unstoppable.

MOSK: If the Mueller investigation concludes and Jared and Ivanka are not on the receiving end of that work will that be a failure in your view? What do you think?

WARD: I will, I will say that I do think one of the biggest reveals in Kushner, Inc. does relate to the Russia investigation because it's how Jared really pushed the president to fire James Comey, in a way that hasn't really been reported before. Right? You know, Jared was gung-ho. According to one of the senior White House officials. And he made a three point argument to the president in front Steve Bannon and others that he thought James Comey was hated by the FBI, was hated by the Democrats. And if Trump fired him the base, the base would love it and he made this argument very impassionedly. Right around the time that the press had learned that he'd been meeting with these Russian banker and Russian diplomat and he had failed to put any of this on his security clearance form. So I'm sure that the Mueller investigation and Congress will be looking very closely at that.

VLASTO: But the White House is going to say or Jared Kushner's people are going to say that, listen, Steve Bannon is a disgruntled person, I don't know if Steve Bannon's the source for you, for your book, on that story but he is around in a lot of the conversations and obviously the hatred between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner is known all over town. So --

PHILLIPS: And with Ivanka.

WARD: Yeah.

VLASTO: And with Ivanka. So does he have an axe to grind?

WARD: I'm fully aware of all the different personal agendas and personal vendettas. I mean, one of the challenges when you report a book like this is not to take just one person's version of events. I think that particularly when you have sources who want to be anonymous, it's really important that you double source everything so you can be absolutely assured that the scene about Jared pushing the president to fire James Comey did not - just because Bannon is in the room, that there is multiple sourcing, eyewitnesses on that.

PHILLIPS: So what more did you find out about why Jared Kushner was encouraging the president to fire James Comey?

WARD: Well you know the timing right? This particular conversation happened in front of a lot of people which is why it was so notable and you know Jared normally didn't go to the line like that but on this issue he did. I think the other sort of big issue for Jared that has not come up before, but is really important is this business of closing the White House logs. You know, everyone has assumed that that the president did that. And you know, there was rightly if you remember an absolute outcry about it. But again it turns out that just around the time that Jared is meeting with people who are in a position to help his family business.

VLASTO: Are you suggesting he doesn't want people to ever see who's coming in there for these meetings?

WARD: That is, absolutely that, you know, the lack of transparency, I mean, around Jared I think is really troubling. One of the things I discovered when I was reporting the book is that BFPS an entity--

VLASTO: That is really interesting.

WARD: That is on Jared's financial disclosure actually stands for “Brothers First Partners Second.” And the way it was, Jared himself explained it about three years ago to somebody he wanted to hire, was that it was a 50 percent profit sharing agreement between himself and his brother Josh. And so, Josh is in a completely different set of businesses. And Charlie Kushner, the father, also told people he liked the idea that the brothers had a profit sharing agreement because he felt it would, it would stop them fighting over money in the way that he and his own brother had, had a disastrous battle.

VLASTO: But didn't Josh Kushner put out a statement about your book saying?

WARD: Josh Kushner did deny that that profit that there is a profit sharing relationship. So the question is, you know, when did it change?

MOSK: I gather that the significance of that if they're sharing profits on everything that, that means that Jared's not really divested himself of his private interests while he's in the White House. Is that the most important point?

WARD: I think the-- look the way he's divested himself is not the same as - again rules are for other people, right? Everyone else when they go into the White House has to sell everything. You can't have a stock or a share. What Jared has done is just put everything in a trust run by his mother and his brother. We know he's had this profit sharing arrangement in the past. There are questions as to whether it exists now.

PHILLIPS: Jared and Ivanka have outlasted so many of the key players that surrounded Trump. I mean Priebus, John Kelly.

WARD: Katie Walsh.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, keep going.

MOSK: It sort of begs the question what does the president actually think of this? And, I guess, a question mark in your book because in some portions of your book it seemed like the president needed Jared and Ivanka around him and wanted them around him and at other points you paint a picture of him wanting them to go back to New York.

WARD: It came in waves was the quote.

PHILLIPS: So is the president back and forth on whether he wants Ivanka and Jared in the White House and not in the White House. Is that true?

WARD: Yeah completely. You know and even actually, what I think one of the book's great ironies, it wasn't even the president who really pushed for them to come in. Don McGahn the White House counsel was ambivalent, didn't already think it was a great idea, partly because of corruption, but also in case they turned out not to be competent - went to see Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus and said, you know, the Justice Department is ambivalent about this. You know we can write a legal opinion to get around the nepotism laws, but what do you think? And it was Bannon, of all people, who said you know maybe, maybe we need them. Maybe they're the only people who can calm the president down in moments of high crisis. And of course great irony is that you know six months later they ushered Steve Bannon out. The president hates the negative press. He hated reading about Jared's botched security clearance forms. He hated reading about their misuse of their e-mail accounts – really bothered him.

PHILLIPS: It's going to bother him even more the way you write about Jared's admission to Harvard, and that his dad, you know, makes a $2.5 million dollar donation, calls up Senator Lautenberg to call Senator Ted Kennedy to call the admissions etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

WARD: He's clearly, he was clearly a very average student right. You know, I quote one of his classmates who is in the first track who actually burst into tears because when she heard that he'd got into Harvard and she hadn't.

MOSK: Jared has denied this I think publicly has denied that this is the case that he used influence to get into Harvard. Is that right? Did they talk to you about this one way or the other?

WARD: No. I mean they, they never, they never talk about this.

PHILLIPS: Did President Trump talk to you at all with regard to your book?

WARD: The, the one, you know, I have known the president a little bit going back 10 years actually. I did talk to him during the transition. And that's when he said to me that he wasn't actually sure if he was going to bring what he was going to do with Jared.

VLASTO: When I read the book, it's as I said in the beginning when we started this interview it's an extremely unflattering portrait of Jared and Ivanka, but the president doesn't come off that bad at all in my opinion, if I you know?

PHILLIPS: You actually seem sympathetic to Trump in your book.

WARD: Mark Corallo kind of says that on the record that, look, you know this is a president who doesn't like to appear weak. But his biggest weakness appears to be these two. That he knows that they shouldn't be there. He perhaps knows they shouldn't have security clearances and yet and he sets up, you know, he has - says to John Kelly you know, they need to go, make life so difficult. And then at the end of it, the great irony is, it's Trump who can't pull the trigger, who can't get rid of them.

PHILLIPS: So why is Jared in the position that he's in, what do they call him? The Secretary of Everything?

WARD: Right.

PHILLIPS: I mean here he is doing Middle East peace negotiating.

WARD: Yeah, but I think that, that is a reflection of Trump's Achilles' heel actually. That these two are his great weakness, not being able to put his foot down.

PHILLIPS: So, a White House insider that worked with them day in and day out said actually the most genuine real thing they saw in that environment and especially between those two was their relationship.

WARD: Right.

PHILLIPS: That they enjoyed each other, they loved each other, they had fun. That this was a real marriage. And that's somebody who dealt with them day in and day out. And he actually, you know, said when he when he was saying saw your book that he completely disagreed with that portrayal that they were just a business partnership.

WARD: Well I don't think I ever say that they're just a business partnership, I mean I think the -

PHILLIPS: Only that president Trump wanted her to marry Tom Brady.

WARD: Well that's President Trump. He's you know - that's, but he's allowed to have his opinion too. I mean I actually think that the book shows how incredibly similar they are in, in many ways. They're very similar in the way that they think that PR, you know, everything is about PR rather than substance.

MOSK: I want you to clarify one thing though when you say that the president doesn't like reading bad press about Jared and Ivanka. Do you mean that he feels angst towards the media for writing these stories? Or do you mean that he feels angst towards Jared and Ivanka for becoming the subject of these stories?

WARD: The latter. He also really hates it when Jared's family finances come under the limelight and under scrutiny because he thinks that, that just brings attention one step closer to his own personal finances and that's, that's not something he's at all excited about.

MOSK: What kind of blowback are you feeling, are you feeling any revenge or payback or scrutiny from the White House or from their team?

WARD: So, they've called around people they think talked to me. And I think, sort of you know asking people to, you know, disavow me. I mean, I was warned back in the summer before I'd actually written a single word. Someone very close to the Kushners said well all they're going to do is, they're going to go and try and discredit you. I mean, so, I knew right from the outset that's what their plan was. I was slightly surprised by Sarah Sanders comment that I think she said that my book had been categorized on my website as fiction. At one point, well that, interestingly my website got hacked, this was about two months ago and – but there was a mistake, but I was amazed that Sarah Sanders or somebody in the White House thought it worth their while two months ago to be looking at my website so closely. I mean, is this really a good use of taxpayer dollars? And you know the other thing that's been fairly interesting is that you know their blanket denial that addressing every point of my, in my fact checking questions would be too time consuming. Well, I sent them a list of about seven or eight questions that were yes or no answers. So that the fact that they think it would be too time consuming to address it is kind of hilarious.

PHILLIPS: So you're confident that everything your sources have told you are 100 percent accurate.

WARD: I had a team of seven fact checkers because I went, so the actual writing was so fast and I knew that it had to be completely solid. It took me four months last summer just to read the transcripts of my own interviews and to get the structure of the book down. So, then I really I just, as I was writing I wanted to be sure that all the details were, you know, were completely accurate. I'm extremely confident in my reporting.

VLASTO: The Mueller report could be out any minute. What do you expect? What do you expect out of this? I mean if there is, if it comes out and says no collusion, but they abused power. Do you think people will just ignore the rest of the stuff that you've written about?

WARD: No I don't because - I think that so the book on a micro level is about Jared and Ivanka, but on a much bigger level it's about how the protocols in government that have kept us safe for many, many decades have just completely been shattered in the last two years. And I think, it's you know I'm a new, relatively new American citizen and I'm appalled and outraged by this. It's like sort of knocking over a cup of coffee it takes a second to do it and it takes much longer to mop it up.

PHILLIPS: Should we be more focused on the Trump family and all their real estate business from years past?

WARD: I mean you know a huge portion of this book is devoted to the intersection of the Kushner family finances and his role in government. Ivanka too. So, I think it's one of the Trump legal team, you know, says in the book that there are going to be a lot of investigations because Robert Mueller has passed, has passed on what's not central to his investigation. He's passed it out to the Southern District of New York. The story does not end when the Mueller report. If anything the story is just beginning.

PHILLIPS: OK. Vicky Ward, thank you so much.

WARD: Thank you.

"The Investigation" is a podcast series offering an in-depth look at special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, analyzing the potential fallout and political consequences. Hosted by ABC News correspondent Kyra Phillips and the ABC News investigative team, led by Senior Executive Producer Chris Vlasto. "The Investigation" is available for free on Apple Podcasts (via iPhone), Google Podcasts (via Android), Spotify (via smartphone and desktop), Stitcher (via smartphone and desktop), TuneIn (via smartphone and desktop), the ABC News app (via your smartphone) or your favorite podcast player.

PHOTO: The Investigation from ABC News
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