Did Jared Kushner’s Dad Set Up Former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey?
Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey resigned from office on August 12, 2004, at a press conference in which he said he had an extramarital affair with a male associate and announced, “I am an American gay”. This being the Garden State, there was no shortage of intrigue surrounding the scandal – and no shortage of accusations and denials. McGreevey had a close relationship with State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who had a front-row seat to the proceedings. No action was taken or charges were filed after McGreevey’s resignation. But here, in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Lesniak offers his side of the story and revisits some lingering questions about who might have been involved.
The McGreevey era, short as it was, was not lacking in the kind of drama any governor would prefer to avoid. The trouble actually started before McGreevey even took office. Gary Taffet, McGreevey’s chief of staff, and Paul Levinsohn, the governor’s chief counsel, owned a billboard company, and it was alleged they used their political influence in the months leading up to the McGreevey’s nomination to gain approval for thirteen billboards in localities where they had been banned by zoning bylaws. They sold the business before taking their new jobs. US Attorney Chris Christie took the rare step of announcing that his office was investigating the two of them. It made a headline. Eventually, both resigned. Christie’s investigation came to nothing, although he did not announce it.
After the billboard inquiry, there was the infamous “Machiavelli” episode involving a land deal in Middlesex County and a Democratic donor in early 2004, McGreevey’s third year as governor. The convoluted details aren’t worth picking up on. Suffice it to say that McGreevey was alleged to have used a code word – Machiavelli – to indicate that the fix was in place. Christie’s office wired one of the participants in the deal and announced that the Governor had indicated his knowledge of a corruption scheme in a pre-implemented code word and that everything was on tape. McGreevey has denied any wrongdoing and has never been charged, although in the forty-seven-page indictment there are repeated references to involvement in the “State Official 1” deal. who later turned out to be the Governor.
It should be noted that in his investigation of the land deal, Christie made a big show of issuing subpoenas to the governor’s office rather than more quietly asking for the documents they wanted, as they normally would. But a low-key, low-key request for information wouldn’t have suited Christie’s style. Or his ambition. Christie has gone to great lengths to cultivate his image as a corruption fighter.
Christie’s investigations undoubtedly cast a cloud over McGreevey’s tenure. But that was nothing compared to the mighty storm that was called Golan Cipel. He was Jim McGreevey’s secret gay lover, a part of his life that few people knew about. In the aftermath of his fall, many people said they suspected McGreevey of being a closeted gay man and having an affair. I didn’t, and I don’t deny that I may have been blind to what others saw or suspected. One thing is certain: I didn’t know about McGreevey’s relationship with Golan Cipel.
Cipel was in his early 30s, originally from Israel and a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. He held various positions in the Israeli government in the 1990s, including a stint in the Israeli consulate in New York, and met McGreevey when the future governor visited Israel with other mayors in 1999. There had an immediate and strong connection between the two. At one point, McGreevey introduced Cipel to his biggest financial backer, real estate developer Charles Kushner, future father-in-law of Ivanka Trump. Kushner was a major player in New Jersey politics, and in shoving in for McGreevey he certainly had a friend in the governor’s office. Although “friend” might not be the right word, because someone like Charlie Kushner had a more practical view of his relationships with others, especially when it came to politicians.
McGreevey was someone who could be of use to him, an ally of convenience – not really a friend, although Kushner and McGreevey have maintained their cordial relationship to this day. Strange, considering the turmoil between the two over the years.