- Close friend and adviser of President Barack Obama
Valerie Jarrett was born in November 1956 to American parents in Shiraz, Iran, where her father -- a renowned physician -- ran a children’s hospital. When Valerie was five, her family relocated to London for one year before settling in Chicago’s elite Hyde Park neighborhood in 1963.
Jarrett's maternal grandfather was a Chicagoan named Robert Taylor, who in the 1940s was involved with such communist fronts as the American Peace Mobilization and the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee. Also a member of these groups was Frank Marshall Davis, the communist journalist who in the 1970s would mentor a young Barack Obama.
Jarrett's mother (and Robert Taylor's daughter) is early-childhood-education author Barbara Taylor Bowman, who co-founded a Chicago-based graduate school in child development known as the Erikson Institute, named after the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson; in 1950 Erikson became a hero to the left by choosing to resign from his professorship at the University of California rather than sign an anti-communist loyalty oath as the school required. Indicative of the Erikson Institute's radical political orientation is the fact that its board of trustees has included, in addition to Bowman, such figures as Tom Ayers (father of the former Weather Underground terrorist and lifelong Marxist Bill Ayers) and Bernardine Dohrn (longtime wife of Bill Ayers). Bill Ayers, for his part, called Bowman “a neighbor and friend” in his 1997 book A Kind and Just Parent, noting that his neighbors also included Louis Farrakhan and “writer Barack Obama.”
Jarrett earned a B.A. in psychology from Stanford University in 1978, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981. In 1983 she married Dr. William Robert Jarrett, son of the Chicago Sun-Times reporter Vernon Jarrett. Vernon Jarrett was a pioneering black journalist who in the 1940s wrote columns for the communist-influenced Chicago Defender extolling Communist poet Langston Hughes and lifelong Stalinists W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. Also in the 1940s, Mr. Jarrett was a leader of the Chicago chapter of American Youth for Democracy—youth wing of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Moreover, he served on a publicity committee for the Packinghouse Workers Union, a Chicago-based entity dominated by the CPUSA. In each of these endeavors, Mr. Jarrett had close contact with Frank Marshall Davis.
Mr. Jarrett freelanced at Kansas City’s The Call from 1954-58, then returned to Chicago to become the first nationally syndicated black columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and still later wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. He once sat on a union publicity committee (for the communist-controlled Packinghouse Workers Union) with Frank Marshall Davis. When Vernon Jarrett died in 2004, he was saluted in the pages of People’s Weekly Worker, the house organ of the CPUSA.
Valerie Jarrett entered Chicago politics in 1987 as Deputy Corporation Counsel for Finance and Development in the administration of Harold Washington, the city's first African-American mayor. Jarrett's father-in-law, whom The Washington Post called “a key influence in [Harold] Washington's decision to run for the Chicago mayoralty,” may have facilitated Valerie's rise through Chicago’s political ranks.
After Washington’s death in 1987, Valerie Jarrett worked for his successor, Richard M. Daley, whom she served as Deputy Chief of Staff. In 1991 Jarrett and her colleague Susan Sher recruited to Chicago's City Hall Michelle Robinson (the future Michelle Obama), who at the time was engaged to Barack Obama. Jarrett quickly became a trusted confidante of both the Obamas.
From 1992 through 1995, Jarrett served the Daley administration as Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development. From 1995-2005, she chaired the Chicago Transit Board. From 1995-2008, she was CEO of The Habitat Company, a real estate firm headed by Daniel Levin (cousin of Senator Carl Levin and Representative Sander Levin of Michigan). Marilyn Katz, an activist/public-affairs consultant with close ties to City Hall (and a former Students for a Democratic Society radical), introduced Jarrett to Daniel Levin.
From 2000 to 2007, Jarrett was a board member of the Chicago Stock Exchange. She currently serves as Chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center's Board of Trustees; Vice Chairman of the University of Chicago's Board of Trustees; a Trustee of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry; and a Board of Directors member of USG Corporation, a Chicago-based building-materials company.
In 2008 Jarrett co-chaired the Obama-Biden Transition Project. After that, she was appointed to a prominent position in the Obama administration: Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Jarrett became one of President Obama’s (and Mrs. Obama’s) closest and most trusted advisers. An Obama 2008 campaign official told the New York Times, “If you want [Barack Obama] to do something, there are two people [he's] not going to say no to: Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.” Also in 2008, the aforementioned Susan Sher, who had helped Jarrett recruit Michelle Obama to the Chicago mayor’s office in 1991, emphasized “how incredibly instrumental [Jarrett will] be in virtually everything” in the White House.
Barack Obama confirms Jarrett’s tremendous cache with him, personally and politically. In July 2009, Obama told New York Times reporter Robert Draper, “I trust her completely … She is family.” Obama trusts Jarrett “to speak for me, particularly when we’re dealing with delicate issues.” When asked, the President admitted that he runs every decision by her.
“We have kind of a mind meld,” Jarrett said of herself and the President. “And chances are, what he wants to do is what I’d want to do.”
Chicago tycoon Martin Nesbitt identified the source of Jarrett’s power in the fact that she establishes both Michelle and Barack Obama's “whole notion of authenticity.” According to Nesbitt, Jarrett channels the Obamas’ inner voice, telling them, for instance: “That’s not you. You wouldn’t say that. Somebody else is saying that. Barack Obama wouldn’t say that.” Jarrett told Vogue magazine, “I kind of know what makes them [the Obamas] who they are.”
Jarrett is deeply concerned with racial issues. After the Jeremiah Wright tapes threatened to sink Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, it was Jarrett who encouraged Obama to give his “race speech” at Constitution Hall. African-American administration staffers have said that without Jarrett's patronage, “their opinions and the often-legitimate concerns voiced by black leaders like [Al] Sharpton would have been thoroughly disregarded by the white-dominated senior staff.” (Emphasis added.)
When White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tried to downplay Obama’s assertion (during the 2008 presidential campaign) that Republicans were emphasizing the fact that Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills,” Jarrett instructed white staffers: “You guys, you’re not getting this issue right.” After Jarrett’s intervention, candidate Obama told his white staffers that they were too “gun-shy on race issues.” A campaign source revealed, “moving forward, the candidate made it very clear to us that we were just a bunch of white people who didn’t get it – which, by the way, was true.”
After Obama's inauguration in January 2009, Jarrett successfully pushed to loosen restrictions barring government officials from meeting with lobbyists, a rule enshrined in Obama’s executive memo on the Recovery Act, for fear that other “legitimate” concerns – raised by “civil rights organizations whose directors happen to be registered lobbyists – will not be heard.”
Without Jarrett’s patronage, the self-identified communist revolutionary Van Jones would not have gotten his appointment as the Obama administration's Green Jobs Czar in March 2009. A White House official told Politico that Jones “did not go through the traditional vetting process”; instead, Jarrett interviewed Jones, a signal that she pushed for his appointment. Jarrett gushed to the Netroots Nation conference:
“We were so delighted to be able to recruit him [Van Jones] into the White House. We were watching him…for as long as he’s been active out in Oakland. And all the creative ideas he has. And so now, we have captured that, and we have all that energy in the White House.”
In early 2009 Jarrett lobbied President Obama to create the office of Chief Diversity Officer within the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a position filled soon thereafter by Mark Lloyd, an Alinskyite and a former senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Jarrett also helped recruit Obama's Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein, who supports the Fairness Doctrine, has argued that Americans should “celebrate tax day,” and believes that animals should have legal standing to sue humans.
Moreover, Jarrett's office approved the September 2009 invitation of Jameel Jaffer, the head of the ACLU's "national security project," to a White House Ramadan dinner. According to The American Spectator:
"Jaffer is a cause célèbre to the far left for his career of litigating against the United States in support of terrorists and radical Islamists, and has proudly touted his awards from groups like CAIR.
"'We had other names on the list for invitations, but Jarrett's office wanted Jaffer in the room. We were told it was important,' says a White House source. 'It was made clear that his presence was something senior folks here wanted to happen.'
"Jaffer has filed lawsuits challenging the FBI's 'national security letter' authority [and] the constitutionality of warrantless wiretaps. [He] has been a leader in pushing for the shut down of Guantánamo Bay, and providing legal rights to terrorists held by the United States overseas in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan. His efforts enabled the leaking of 'torture photos' out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and some sources inside the Central Intelligence Agency believe he was one of the lawyers who provided legal advice to the Department of Justice to pursue an investigation into enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA."
In September 2011, Jarrett said the following about what she viewed as the proper role of government: “We have to give people a livelihood so they can provide for their families.... His [President Obama's] is a moral vision. It's a vision based very deeply in values and taking care of 'the least of these.' And making sure that we are creating a country that's a country for everybody, not just for the very, very wealthy. We are working hard to lift people out of poverty and give them a better life, a footing, and that’s what government is supposed to do.”
In his 2012 book, Leading From Behind, author Richard Miniter reveals that Jarrett, prior to the May 2011 U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, had repeatedly urged President Obama not to take out the al Qaeda leader, prompting Obama to cancel the mission on three separate occasions -- in January, February, and March of 2011. Jarrett's concern was the political damage that could result if the mission were to fail.
In March 2012, Jarrett was a major presenter at J Street’s 3rd annual conference.
A September 2012 article about Jarrett described her as “the only staff member who regularly follows the president home from the West Wing to the residence, a practice that has earned her the nickname ‘the Night Stalker.’” The article further identified Jarrett as the person responsible for a number of controversial Obama administration policy decisions, including the healthcare-reform bill's call for an insurance mandate for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures; President Obama's decision to sue the state of Arizona for its immigration-enforcement statute (SB-1020); and the president's decision to allow illegal immigrants to apply for work permits.
In an interview with Walter Isaacson at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, Jarrett recalled a meeting in which she had participated a year-and-a-half earlier with four "Dream Act kids," young illegal immigrants who had walked from Miami to Washington, DC as part of the 2010 “Trail of Dreams” program sponsored by such groups as Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. Said Jarrett:
“I call them kids. They’re actually young adults. They walked from Florida to Washington. Walked. And they wanted to see the president. And of course they couldn’t come into the White House because they’re here illegally, and they would have been picked up. And so I ventured across the street, across the park, to a church and I met them in the church. And I’ve now met with them four or five times. And each time I would leave in tears. Because they are exactly the kind of people we would want in this country.... They are the best that we have.”
In October 2012 it was revealed that for several months, Jarrett, who had no experience in international negotiations, had been leading secret negotiations with representatives of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in an effort to develop normalized relations between the U.S. and Iran.
A few days before the November 2012 presidential election, a representative from Jarrett's office quoted Jarrett as having told several senior staffers the following:
“After we win this election, it’s our turn. Payback time. Everyone not with us is against us and they better be ready because we don’t forget. The ones who helped us will be rewarded, the ones who opposed us will get what they deserve. There is going to be hell to pay. Congress won’t be a problem for us this time. No election to worry about after this is over and we have two judges ready to go.”
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article, "Valerie Jarrett: The Next Van Jones," written by Ben Johnson and published by FrontPageMag.com on September 14, 2009.