Kushner earns praise for backing criminal justice overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was the first time many liberal advocates had set foot inside President Donald Trump's White House.

They had come at the invitation of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, a top White House adviser. Many liberal and good-government groups had questioning his lack of experience in government, and raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest and cozy relationship with foreign leaders, including Saudi Arabia's crown prince.

But in White House conference rooms and lobbying trips to Capitol Hill, Kushner worked with advocates, legislators and those on both ends of the political spectrum to forge a deal intended to make the nation's criminal justice system fairer.

Now Kushner, the likely subject of new investigations when Democrats take control of the House next year, is getting credit for helping to push through what could be the first major bipartisan legislative success of the Trump era.

36 PHOTOS
Jared Kushner through the years
See Gallery
Jared Kushner through the years
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 08: Jared Kushner attends the New York premiere of 'Factotum' at the IFC Center Theater. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 16: Laura Englander and Jared Kushner attend The Partnership for Public Service's Third Annual Black Tie Gala Honoring John McCain with 'The Theodore Roosevelt Award for the Advancement of Public Service' at Waldorf-Astoria on June 16, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Jared Kushner during Miss Potter New York Premiere - Inside Arrivals at DGA Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - MAY 8: Mort Zuckerman and Jared Kushner attend TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People 2007 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 14: (L-R) Jerry Della Famina, Matthew Weiner and Jared Kushner attend AMC Hosts a Special Preview and Discussion of Their Provocative New Series 'MAD MEN' at Michael's on June 14, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Michael Moore and Jared Kushner during 'Sicko' New York City Premiere - Reception at Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for The Weinstein Company)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 24: Owner of the New York Observer Jared Kushner arrives at The Metropolitan Opera's Opening Night at Lincoln Center September 24, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Metropolitan Opera)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - SEPTEMBER 9: (L-R) Ivanka Trump, Narciso Rodriguez and Jared Kushner attend Afterparty for the NARCISO RODRIGUEZ Spring/Summer 2008 Collection at Gramercy Park Hotel on September 9, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by JOE SCHILDHORN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - MARCH 13: vanka Trump (in Elie Saab and Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry) and Jared Kushner attend The Young Fellows of The Frick Collection, with ELIE SAAB and IVANKA TRUMP Fine Jewelry present a gala 'Un Ballo in Maschera' at The Frick Collection on March 13, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by DAVID X PRUTTING/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BEDMINSTER, NJ - OCTOBER, 25: In this handout image provided by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump (R) and Jared Kushner (L) attend their wedding at Trump National Golf Club on October 25, 2009 in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Photo Brian Marcus/Fred Marcus Photography via Getty Images)
�2010 RAMEY PHOTO August 19, 2010 - Porto Cervo - Sardinia Ivanka Trump,the daughter of Ivana and Donald Trump, is spending a few days on holiday with her husband Jared Kushner. CPE/MB (Photo by Philip Ramey/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jared Kushner, Owner of New York Observer and Kai Madison Trump attend the 4th annual Eric Trump Foundation Golf Invitational at the Trump National Golf Club Westchester on September 14, 2010 in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 18: Jared Kushner speaks at the FINCA 25th Anniversary Creating Pathways Out of Poverty event at Capitale Bowery on November 18, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for FINCA)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump attend the COMEDY CENTRAL Roast of Donald Trump at the Hammerstein Ballroom on March 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend the Vanity Fair Party during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 17, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 07: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump attend the Carolina Herrera Fashion Show with GREY GOOSE Vodka at the Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 7, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for GREY GOOSE)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Lara Yunaska and Jared Kushner attend The Eric Trump 8th Annual Golf Tournament at Trump National Golf Club Westchester on September 15, 2014 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend the 'China: Through The Looking Glass' Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are seen on March 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Tal Rubin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner attend the men's final between Novack Djokovic of Serbia and Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland at Arthur Ashe Stadium on day 14 of the 2016 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 11, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/GC Images)
Ivanka Trump (L) and husband Jared Kushner are seen at a polling station in a school during the 2016 presidential elections on November 8, 2016 in New York. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(FromL) Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and Tiffany Trump smile as Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18: Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald Trump, walks through the lobby of Trump Tower with his wife Ivanka on November 18, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 7: Jared Kushner sits in Vice President-elect Mike Pence's car outside of Trump Tower, December 7, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (2nd L) smiles at his wife Ivanka Trump as she is mentioned by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his remarks at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner arrives to join U.S. President Donald Trump and the rest of the U.S. delegation to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump step off Air Force One upon arrival at Rome's Fiumicino Airport on May 23, 2017. Donald Trump arrived in Rome for a high-profile meeting with Pope Francis in what was his first official trip to Europe since becoming US President. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Jared Kushner is seen at the Royal Court after US President Donald Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 03: In this handout provided by the Department of Defense (DoD), Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, speaks with Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander, Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve, during a helo ride aboard a CH-47 over Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. (Photo by Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD via Getty Images)
QAYYARAH WEST, IRAQ - APRIL 04: In this handout provided by the Department of Defense (DoD), Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump meets with Service Members at a forward operating base near Qayyarah West in Iraq, April 4, 2017. (Photo by Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 17: U.S. President Donald Trump (C) walks along the West Wing colonnade with his daughter Ivanka Trump (L) and his son-in-law and Senior Advisor to the President for Strategic Planning Jared Kushner before he departs the White House March 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. The first family is scheduled to spend the weekend at their Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Senior Advisor to the President, Jared Kushner (L), walks with his wife Ivanka Trump to board Marine One at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2017. The two are travelling with US President Donald Trump to Florida. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, center, speaks while Jared Kushner, senior White House advisor, left, and Kenneth Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., listen during a meeting with manufacturing executives in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Trump told some of America's most prominent corporate executives that he intends to put them to work restoring manufacturing jobs and U.S. dominance in trade. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, listens during a meeting with small business leaders in the Roosevelt room at the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner dance at the Liberty Ball at the Washington DC Convention Center following Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: Ianka Trump (R), Jared Kushner, White House senior advisor to the president for strategic planning and son-in-law to President Donald Trump, and two of their children greet members of the armed forces and their families during an event celebrating National Military Appreciation Month and National Military Spouse Appreciation Day in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building May 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Vice President Mike Pence hosted about 160 spouses and children of the active duty U.S. military members. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"I don't think this would have happened without him," said Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender. He said the bill would have "a profound effect on thousands of families who have been suffering as a result of this broken system."

Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, attended multiple meetings at the White House and lobbied with Kushner on Capitol Hill. She said that while the center's policies are generally "very oppositional" to the Trump agenda, criminal justice offered a rare opportunity for cooperation.

Kushner "understands why this is a very important issue and the effect that it could have," she said.

For Kushner, the criminal justice issue has long been deeply personal.

Kushner was in his early 20s and a law and business school student in the mid-2000s when his father was sentenced to federal prison on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.

"When you're on the other side of the system, you feel so helpless," Kushner told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "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.

15 PHOTOS
First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill
See Gallery
First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 19: From left, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, arrive for a news conference in the Capitol on the passage of the criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, on December 19, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 19: From left, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on the passage of the criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, on December 19, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 19: From right, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on the passage of the criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, on December 19, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, center, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, center, speaks during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, right, prepares to speak during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, second left, listens to a question during a news conference on criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Under the First Step Act federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced and programs to curb recidivism would be expanded. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Corry Booker (D-NJ) listen to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speak on the passage of the First Step Act on December 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said he would sign the legislation, which would reduce the number of inmates in the nation’s crowded prisons by giving judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes and strengthen rehabilitation programs for former prisoners. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks on the passage of the First Step Act on December 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said he would sign the legislation, which would reduce the number of inmates in the nation’s crowded prisons by giving judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes and strengthen rehabilitation programs for former prisoners. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The issue was never part of Trump's campaign message. But within months of his father-in-law taking office, Kushner was spotted in the hallways of Congress, coming and going from meetings on the subject.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he talked to Kushner as often as five times a day.

Kushner worked with groups including the ACLU, Brennan Center, and the conservative Koch brothers' network, along with Republican governors, law enforcement groups, former Obama special adviser Van Jones and reality star Kim Kardashian West. And he got the president on board.

Even before Tuesday's Senate vote, though, some of the unlikely allies worked with Kushner on criminal justice were skeptical the working relationships built in recent months will translate into further bipartisan successes. A House vote is expected later this week.

The administration enters a new era in January, when Democrats take control of the House.

Democrats have made clear that they intend to use their subpoena power to investigate the administration, including Kushner. He is expected to face an onslaught of inquiries digging into everything from his businesses and security clearance to his relationship with the Saudi royal accused of ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Revamping criminal justice, they say, was a unique and rare area of consensus.

"The fact of the matter is that many of the policies of the Trump administration are squarely at odds with ACLU principles. And it's lovely to have a rapport on an issue you can agree with," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It might be much harder to find common ground on any other issue."

Kushner declined to comment on the record about the expected inquiries, and what the new reality might mean for the president and the White House.

He also faced opposition from within the administration, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposed sentencing changes that helped to bring Senate Democrats on board. Even on Tuesday, critics of the bill were making a final push to amend the legislation, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts.

But Romero, whose ACLU has filed 107 lawsuits against the administration so far, most challenging its immigration policies, praised Kushner's "tenacity" and "doggedness."

"Though we have many areas of disagreement with the White House, it was refreshing to find one area where we could work together," Romero said, adding that, Kushner's personal commitment to the issue "allowed us to break through."

Holly Harris, a conservative strategist and executive director of the Justice Action Network, credited Kushner's efforts to put Republican governors supportive of the legislation in front of the president to share their experiences about how similar efforts in their states had helped reduce crime.

"Their voices were critical in showing another side of reform to the president," she said of Trump.

"He never quit. He never slowed down. He kept moving things," added Grover Norquist, an advocate for lower taxes, who also worked with Kushner.

___

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

__

Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.