See also: Barack Obama
Valerie Jarrett was born as Valerie Bowman on November 14, 1956 to American parents in Shiraz, Iran. Her later father—a physician named James Bowman—worked as a pathologist and geneticist at a children’s hospital in Shiraz as part of a U.S. aid program to assist developing countries.
Jarrett's mother is the early-childhood-education author Barbara Taylor Bowman (born 1928), who in 1966 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 Mrs. 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 Mrs. 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's maternal grandfather was a Chicagoan named Robert Taylor, the first African-American head of the Chicago Housing Authority. In the 1940s he 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 maternal grandmother, Dorothy Taylor, was a Berkeley, California native who was active with Planned Parenthood in its early years.
When Valerie Jarrett was five, her family relocated to London for one year before settling in Chicago’s elite Hyde Park neighborhood in 1963.
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. From 1981-87 she practiced law at two Chicago-based private firms. In 1983 she married Dr. William Robert Jarrett, son of the Chicago Sun-Times reporter Vernon Jarrett.
Vernon Jarrett (Valerie Jarrett's father-in-law) was a pioneering black journalist in the 1940s. He freelanced at Kansas City’s The Call from 1954-58, then returned to Chicago to become the first nationally syndicated black columnist for the communist-influenced Chicago Defender, where he wrote columns extolling the Communist poet Langston Hughes and lifelong Stalinists W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. Also in the 1940s, 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, Vernon Jarrett had close contact with the Communist Frank Marshall Davis. When Jarrett died in 2004, he was saluted in the pages of People’s Weekly Worker, the house organ of the CPUSA.
As historian Paul Kengor summarized in 2014: “[Barack] Obama’s mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, worked with the literal relatives of Valerie Jarrett—her grandfather and future father-in-law—in Chicago’s Communist Party circles in the 1940s.” In an earlier piece, Kengor put it this way: “So, imagine where we are today: Barack Obama, Frank Marshall Davis’s political godson, and Valerie Jarrett, daughter-in-law to Vernon Jarrett and granddaughter of Robert Taylor—men with links to pro-Stalinism—are the two dominant figures in the White House, the power center that battled the USSR throughout the Cold War.”
Valerie Jarrett Enters Politics
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 Mayor Washington’s death in 1987, Valerie Jarrett served as deputy chief of staff for the next mayor, Richard M. Daley. During her tenure in that post, Jarrett met and befriended a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson, (the future Michelle Obama), who at the time was engaged to Barack Obama. In 1991 Jarrett and her colleague Susan Sher recruited Michelle to Chicago's City Hall, and 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 1995-2003, she chaired the Chicago Transit Board. Sometime in the early 1990s, 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, a cousin of both Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Michigan).
From 1995-2008 Jarrett worked for Daniel Levin's real-estate firm, the Habitat Company. In 2007 Jarrett became Habitat's president and CEO, drawing a $300,000 in salary plus $550,000 in deferred compensation.
From 2001-08, the Habitat Company managed Grove Parc Plaza, a federally subsidized, 504-unit public housing complex situated in a neighborhood that Barack Obama had represented for eight years as a state senator. But under Habitat's management, Grove Parc fell into disrepair and became largely uninhabitable, plagued by a host of unaddressed problems such as collapsed roofs, fire damage, rodent infestation, and sewage backups. According to a 2008 Boston Globe report: “In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale—a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.” Eventually government inspectors seized control of the complex because of its horrid conditions.
Also under Jarrett's stewardship, said the Globe, “Habitat ... co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.”
But for Jarrett the news was not all bad. Indeed she became immensely wealthy while presiding over the aforementioned slum apartments. As of 2012 Jarrett owned an 11-percent equity interest in Kingsbury Plaza, a 46-story luxury apartment complex developed by the Habitat Company during 2005-07 at a cost exceeding $100 million. On her 2011 financial disclosure form, she valued that investment—which a Jarrett spokesman said was “a direct result of her 13 years working for Habitat”—at between $1 million and $5 million. According to a 2012 report in the Washington Free Beacon: “Cook County records show the Kingsbury property's worth at approximately $27.2 million, but thanks to a series of legal appeals beginning in 2003, the land and building are assessed at a much lower value for tax purposes. Since 2008, the property has been designated a 'special commercial structure' and is taxed at a value of just $6.8 million, or 25 percent of the actual value. Asked how such a property could enjoy such a low taxable value, an official with the Cook County Assessor’s Office told the Free Beacon that the property’s owners 'must have good attorneys.'”
Apart from her duties with the Habitat Compan, Jarrett from 2000-07 was a board member of the Chicago Stock Exchange. She also served stints as chair of the University of Chicago Medical Center's Board of Trustees; vice chair 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.
Alliance With Barack Obama
Following Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election, 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. In this role, Jarrett was one of President Obama’s (and Mrs. Obama’s) closest and most trusted advisers. Consider the following observations, by a variety of informed sources, about Jarrett's importance as an Obama advisor:
Jarrett is deeply concerned with racial issues. After the tape recordings of Jeremiah Wright's racist, anti-American diatribes threatened to sink 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.”
When future 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.” According to a campaign source, “[M]oving 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 [stimulus bill], for fear that other “legitimate” concerns—raised by “civil rights organizations whose directors happen to be registered lobbyists—will not be heard.”
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 and has argued that Americans should “celebrate tax day.”
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. Indeed, Jarrett gushed to the Netroots Nation conference in August 2009:
“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.”
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."
Collaborating with the National Endowment for the Arts to Advance the Obama Agenda
On May 12, 2009, numerous employees in Jarrett's office—and possibly Jarrett herself—helped co-host a strategy meeting organized by the Nathan Cummings Foundation. At this event, some 60 artists were—in the words of one of the meeting’s organizers—“challenged to come up with promising and attractive ideas about how artists can work for the [Obama] administration’s agenda.” For details about the meeting and its attendees, click here.
The meeting was led by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) official (Mario Garcia Durham), two representatives of First Lady Michelle Obama (Joseph Reinstein and Trooper Sanders), White House arts czar Kareem Dale (who reported to Valerie Jarrett), and three members of what was then known as the Office of Public Liason (headed by Jarrett). Those three were Buffy Wicks, Tina Tchen, and Mike Strautmanis (President Obama’s former chief counsel and a onetime paralegal at Michelle Obama’s law firm).
In the meeting, Strautmanis encouraged the group to think of “ways to communicate” the Obama administration’s agenda “with people and how to motivate them culturally.” Buffy Wicks asked briefing participants to “think through how their networks and organizations can participate in areas such as the arts in education, healthcare and preventative care, energy and environment, or economic opportunity.” And Tina Tchen added, “The administration wants to sustain energy from the election process and turn it toward the agenda.”
The notes of the meeting seem to suggest that Valerie Jarrett was present at some point as well.
Other noteworthy attendees included:
Also in attendance included Maria Teresa Petersen, founding executive director of Voto Latino; Caron Atlas and Ryan Friedrichs of State Voices; Robert “Biko” Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters; Michelle Miller, manager of popular media organizing at the SEIU; Denise Brown, executive director of the Leeway Foundation; and Michelle Coffey, senior philanthropic advisor with the Tides Foundation.
More Examples of Jarrett's Influence on the Obama Administration
When President Obama publicly stated that Massachusetts police had acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct in July 2009 (click here for details), Jarrett urged Obama to walk back those remarks because she worried that they would be perceived as disrespectful to police.
In his book Leading From Behind, author Richard Miniter reveals that Jarrett, prior to the May 2011 U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, repeatedly urged President Obama not to kill the al Qaeda leader, prompting Obama to cancel the mission on three separate occasions—in January, February, and March of 2011. Jarrett was concerned about the political damage that could result if the mission were to fail.
In 2010-11 Jarrett promoted the California-based solar-power company Solyndra, where one of her wealthiest Chicago connections, billionaire George Kaiser—a leading Obama bundler—held a 35% share in the company. On Jarrett's advice, President Obama famously visited and publicly extolled Solyndra in 2010, even though auditors were already warning about the abysmal state of its finances. In September 2011 the company declared bankruptcy, but not before it had received a $535 million government-backed loan.
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.”
A September 2012 New York Times report identifies Jarrett as the person responsible for a number of controversial Obama Administration policy decisions, including: (a) the Affordable Care Act's call for an insurance mandate for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures; (b) President Obama's decision to sue the state of Arizona for its immigration-enforcement statute (SB-1020); and (c) the president's decision to allow illegal immigrants to apply for work permits.
In March 2012, Jarrett was a major presenter at J Street’s Third Annual Conference.
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.”