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The Union of the Kushners and the Trumps Seems Like Kismet

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If Kushner was moved by Gorkov’s thoughtful gifts, he did not let on to either Congress or to the Mueller investigators. But Bernstein sees the symbolism. The bag of dirt, she writes, was “reminiscent of the bags of dirt that Rae Kushner” — Kushner’s grandmother — “and her family had dug from the earth and hidden in the walls of Novogrudok ghetto so the Nazis wouldn’t know they had dug a tunnel to safety.” Dramatic enough on its own. But Bernstein sees deeper meaning that she wants us to know is lost on her subjects, the Kushners and the Trumps. “Had it not been for those bags of dirt,” she writes, “Rae would never have made it out of the ghetto, to the forest, to the refugee camp, or to New York, where she had four children, including one named after her brother who had died during the escape. And whose own son, Jared Corey Kushner, was now one of the most powerful people in a new and uncertain world slinking again toward darkness.”

This passage shows Bernstein at her narrative best: reportorial, pointed and unsparing, while reinforcing her theme that the Trumps and the Kushners are ruthless, cold, power hungry and endlessly ambitious. Her narrative traces the origin of the myths about the two families, how these callous, opportunistic dynasties were finally joined at the hip through the 2009 marriage of Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Trump’s older daughter and most-favored child, at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club, and what the present generations were willing to do to relatives, friends and foes — anyone, really — to slake their seemingly unquenchable thirsts.

But it is also true that Bernstein has picked a most difficult topic to probe for new insights. So much has been written already about the Trumps and the Kushners — and not just in the four-plus years since Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower spewing vitriol and hate — that to add new material to that grotesque canon is an exceptionally challenging task for any reporter, even one as diligent as Bernstein. While “American Oligarchs” is a rich and highly readable compendium, one does not finish it and think, “I’ve just been bedazzled and infuriated anew.” Rather, the experience of consuming this book is more along the lines of reading an encyclopedia of many of the hateful things we already know, or think we know, about these two families.

As Bernstein shares in her “Note on Sources,” she did not have access to Trump or his family. She did not interview the Kushners, although Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father, answered some of her questions through his attorney; Jared Kushner, through the White House, provided some factual information but did not answer her questions. She obviously didn’t have Anonymous’s access to the White House, or even Michael Wolff’s. Fear was yet another obstacle to overcome. Most of the more than 200 people she did interview — many of them with firsthand knowledge of events, and on good terms with the Trumps and the Kushners — declined to be identified in any way.

Make no mistake, Bernstein is an intrepid reporter, best known for her work at WNYC, the New York City public radio station, and in particular for her relentless digging about Bridgegate, that notorious only-in-New-Jersey story that probably cost Chris Christie, the former governor, the chance of making a serious run for the Republican nomination that Trump won instead. Of course, as Bernstein also shares, Christie was the United States attorney in New Jersey who famously prosecuted Kushner’s father for evading taxes, witness tampering, making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law as part of a family feud. When Charles Kushner pleaded guilty, in 2004, he served 14 months in a federal prison.

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‘Saturday Night Live’ Spoofs Trump’s Impeachment Trial

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It’s been almost 22 years since “Saturday Night Live” last found itself satirizing a presidential impeachment proceeding, but as the show turned its attention to President Trump’s trial in the Senate, it quickly reverted to its tried-and-true formula: a smidgen of factual detail, a dollop of celebrity cameos and a whole bunch of cultural references that may or may not be germane to the topic.

This weekend’s broadcast, hosted by Adam Driver and featuring the musical guest Halsey, began with a sketch set on Capitol Hill, where Susan Collins (played by Cecily Strong) and Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett) reflected on the trial to date.

“We all know this impeachment proceeding is a sham and a hoax,” Bennett said. “Republicans are simply requesting a fair trial — no witnesses, no evidence. That way we can acquit President Trump and focus on the real criminals in this country: teenagers who try marijuana.”

Strong said, “The evidence against Trump is pretty damning so I’m still on the fence,” then made an exaggerated wink.

Jost:

The impeachment trial started this week, and am I crazy or was Adam Schiff on my TV for 100 hours straight? Even when I turned the TV off, there was still an outline of him burned into the screen. What happened was, Democrats spent three days laying out in great detail how they believe President Trump has been the most egregious abuser of power in American history. And then Republicans laid out their defense, the shrug emoji. Mitch McConnell, seen here calmly watching an orphanage burn, defended his plan for the trial, saying, “The country is waiting to see if we can rise to the occasion.” I would maybe say you’re not rising to the occasion, considering one senator fell asleep, Rand Paul was doing a crossword puzzle and some Republican senators even brought fidget spinners to play with. I assume this symbolized how the Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves.

Che:

You’re better than me, Colin. I didn’t watch one minute of that trial. It was like a four-day long PowerPoint. This is supposed to be Trump’s punishment, not mine. This whole impeachment is like a bad episode of “Maury.” There’s all this evidence that Trump clearly cheated and Republicans are still like, “But Maury, he loves me.” Trump is so confident he’s going to win, he’s using Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyer to represent him. Talk about credibility — who’s his character witness, R. Kelly?

Melissa Villaseñor appeared as herself in a segment where she sang a series of songs about this year’s crop of Academy Award nominees. Each tune was set to the same bouncy bossa nova beat, like this catchy ditty about “The Irishman”:

This movie has a lot to offer

Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa

Gangster life gets kinda messy

Robert De Niro and lil’ Joe Pesci

It’s three hours long

They’re old and they’re young

And it’s white male rage

White male rage

White male rage

If you listen to Villaseñor’s other songs, which also address “Joker,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “1917” and Greta Gerwig’s snub for directing “Little Women,” we think you’ll see a pattern emerge! (Hint: It’s white male rage.)

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Directors Guild Picks Sam Mendes, Handing ‘1917’ Another Big Win

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The Oscars won’t be held for another two weeks, but it looks increasingly likely that “1917” has won the war for best picture.

The World War I drama picked up yet another major prize Saturday night in Los Angeles when the Directors Guild of America gave Sam Mendes its top prize for direction of a feature film. Shot and stitched together to appear as though it were filmed in just two long takes, the technically audacious “1917” has come on strong this month, also claiming top honors from the Producers Guild of America as well as the drama and director trophies at the Golden Globes.

Mendes faced strong competition for the DGA Award, edging out Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) and Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”).

Do any of those films still stand a chance against “1917” at the Academy Awards? Yes, though it’s a slim one. Only twice over the last decade has a film won the best-picture Oscar without first taking either the DGA or PGA prizes: In 2015, when the Oscars favored “Spotlight” over the DGA winner “The Revenant” and PGA winner “The Big Short,” and in 2016, when “La La Land” won both major guild prizes but still fell to “Moonlight” at the Oscars.

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What’s on TV Sunday: ‘The L Word: Generation Q’ and the Grammys

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THE L WORD: GENERATION Q 10 p.m. on Showtime. This reboot of the “The L Word,” the pioneering series about lesbian life in Los Angeles, wraps up its first season. The mayoral candidate Bette (Jennifer Beals) is on the edge of her seat, waiting for the results on election night. While Shane (Katherine Moennig) and Quiara (Lex Scott Davis) face another bump in the road, Alice (Leisha Hailey) takes a risk with her show after a devastating drop in ratings. In her review for The New York Times, Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that while “The L Word” “now better reflects Los Angeles’s ethnic and gender diversity,” it still needs some fine tuning. The original series “always stood on shaky, uncritical ground when it came to money and class, and ‘Generation Q’ offers little progress in that regard.” Fans who welcomed this sequel can breathe a sigh of relief: Showtime recently renewed it for a second season.

THE 62ND ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS 8 p.m. on CBS. A dark cloud hangs over Sunday night’s ceremony: Deborah Dugan, the suspended chief executive of the Recording Academy, was recently placed on leave over accusations of bullying behavior and a request for a multimillion-dollar payout. Dugan has denied the charges and responded with her own allegations, saying the academy was punishing her for unveiling misconduct. As the intense showdown plays out behind-the-scenes, several of this year’s nominees will take the stage for performances. Among them are Lizzo (with eight nominations), Billie Eilish (six) and Lil Nas X (also six).

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