President Donald Trump’s tweets trashing Baltimore were aimed at baiting Democrats into a feud he believed would embarrass them, presidential adviser Jared Kushner told Bob Woodward in the veteran journalist’s new book.
Kushner’s statements in the book — including that it is politically “crazy” to defend Baltimore — provoked forceful responses from city representatives and renewed long-running verbal sparring between the Republican-led White House and Democratic-run city.
City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee for Baltimore mayor, said in an interview that it was wrong for Kushner to “bash” the city “without coming to the table. They made a political mistake in my opinion because what they did in fact was galvanize people who love Baltimore, who will come to her defense.”
Kushner, a senior White House adviser, is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. His family’s real estate firm, Kushner Companies, owns Westminster Management LLC, which manages apartment complexes across the Baltimore region and whose rental practices are the subject of a suit filed last year by the Maryland attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division.
Kushner’s quotes appear in “Rage,” the new book by Woodward that is being publicly released Tuesday. In the book, Trump acknowledges playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic because he didn’t want to create “a panic.”
Kushner marvels in the book about Trump’s ability to determine “how to trigger the other side by picking fights with them where he makes them take stupid positions.”
The presidential aide recalls Trump’s July 2019 Twitter remarks about the Baltimore-area congressional district then represented by Democrat Elijah Cummings, who died last October. “No human being would want to live there,” Trump tweeted.
Calling the district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” the president also tweeted at the time that Cummings should spend more time in Baltimore to “help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.” Trump has continued to tweet about the city.
Kushner believed the initial tweets were aimed at “baiting” Democrats, Woodward writes.
The author quotes Kushner talking to an unnamed associate: “When he did the tweet on Elijah Cummings, the president was saying, this is great, let them defend Baltimore."
“The Democrats are getting so crazy," Kushner continues in the book. "They’re basically defending Baltimore. When you get to the next election, he’s tied them to all these stupid positions because they’d rather attack him than actually be rational.”
Neither the White House nor the Kushner Companies responded to requests for comment for this article.
Cummings’ own book, “We’re Better Than This,” is being released posthumously this month. He had a rare form of cancer.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s widow, said in an interview that Trump – while criticizing Baltimore’s Democratic leadership – has not tried to address the city’s problems. She also faulted Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for his 2015 cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line across the city, a project her husband had aided by helping secure required federal funding.
While Democrats said the light rail line would have spurred economic development, Hogan called it a boondoggle and balked at the $1 billion proposed tunnel under downtown Baltimore, Harbor East and Fells Point.
“Conditions on the ground in Baltimore, like cities and towns across America, are dependent upon a combination of local, state and federal resources,” said Rockeymoore Cummings, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman. “Despite Democrats' desire to work with Trump on a federal infrastructure initiative, he has done nothing in four years to bring relief to cities like Baltimore with serious infrastructure needs.”
Scott said Baltimore and other cities face long-standing issues such as structural racism and "the federal government getting out of the business of helping cities on infrastructure. We need true leaders that are going to actually acknowledge these issues, work on them, but also highlight the great things that are happening. "
Maryland Policy & Politics
In the interview, Scott called Kushner a “slumlord.”
Last year, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh sued Westminster, the Kushner Companies' management firm, alleging it used “unfair or deceptive” rental practices. Attorneys in the Consumer Protection Division office argued that Westminster and 25 other companies whose properties it managed “victimized consumers, many of whom are financially vulnerable, at all stages of offering and leasing” their rental units in Maryland.
Attorneys for the management company have said the allegations represent a legal overreach and “political attack.” The case is still pending.
In 2017, Kushner stepped down as the parent firm’s CEO upon becoming a Trump adviser while maintaining a stake in Westminster, a subsidiary.
In January, a judge ruled against five area tenants who had brought a lawsuit claiming Westminster engaged in unlawful rental practices, including by charging improper fees and threatening evictions to force payment. Baltimore Circuit Judge Philip Jackson issued a one-page order agreeing with the company that the suit shouldn’t proceed.
Trump has continued to tweet about Baltimore. On Sept. 6, he called the city “the WORST IN NATION” while endorsing Kimberly Klacik, a Republican candidate for the congressional seat long represented by Cummings and now held by Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat.
“Be smart Baltimore! You have been ripped off for years by the Democrats, & gotten nothing but poverty & crime,” Trump tweeted.