Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor with the Obama administration, has been thrown into the public spotlight Tuesday after a racist tweet posted by Roseanne Barr went viral Tuesday morning. Barr called the former Barack Obama aide the offspring of the “Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes.” Barr has since apologized, but has lost her show and her agent since the tweets went viral.
Jarrett, an American attorney, businesswoman, and civic leader, was one of President Obama’s longest serving advisors and confidantes and known for her lengthy history in politics and her close relationship with the Obamas.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. It was Rumored that Jarrett Leaked the Infamous Hillary Clinton Emails During the 2016 Presidential Election
During the 2016 presidential election, Clinton was criticized over news that she had used a privately controlled server to host both personal and business email accounts during her time at the State Department.
When the scandal broke, the New York Post reported that Jarrett was responsible for releasing the emails and that Jarrett had been scheming to put serious challengers against Hillary Clinton, such as former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. According to a source quoted in the Daily Mail:
She’s promised O’Malley and Warren the full support of the White House if they will challenge Hillary for the presidential nomination.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday called the report that Jarrett leaked the news “utter baloney.”
Jarrett herself said in an interview with MSNBC that the allegations that she leaked the emails was preposterous.
2. Michelle Obama Trusts Jarrett Implicitly and Compared Her to a ‘Mom, a Big Sister’
According to Discover the Networks, Jarrett found her way into 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,” had a hand in Jarrett’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 time as deputy chief of staff, Jarrett met a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson, who at the time, was engaged to Barack Obama. According to Discover the Networks, “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.”
Jarrett quick took to the Obamas and, over the years, introduced Barack and Michelle to “the inner Daley circle, to wealthy business people, and to the people who mattered in her enclave, Hyde Park—all of which helped Obama as he moved up from community organizer to Springfield to Washington,” according to Chicago Mag.
Back in 2008, Michelle Obama spoke to The New York Times about how she sees Jarrett:
I can count on someone like Valerie to take my hand and say, ‘You need to think about these three things.’ Like a mom, a big sister, I trust her implicitly.
In the mid 90’s, 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),” Discover the Networks states.
3. Jarrett was One of Obama’s Most Trusted Senior Advisors, Although Their Close Relationship Caused Some Controversy
Following Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, Jarrett co-chaired the Obama-Biden Transition Project. Jarrett was one of President Obama’s closest and most trusted advisers since. Jarrett was one of three senior advisors to President Obama.
She held the position of assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement, managed the White House Office of Public Engagement, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Office of Urban Affairs; she also chaired the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport.
Jarrett’s close relationship with the Obamas and her role as a senior advisor has caused controversy over the years; Robert M. Gates, former secretary of defense, objected to her involvement in foreign security affairs in his memoir. Rahm Emanuel attempted to have her selected as Obama’s replacement in the senate, “due to concerns about the difficulty in working with a family friend in a major policy role,” according to David Axelrod in his memoirs.
4. Born in Iran, Jarrett Grew up Speaking Persian and English; She Has a B.A. in Psychology, is a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Holds an Honorary Degree
Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran, to American parents, and moved to London when she was 5. One year later, she and her family moved to Chicago. One of her maternal great-grandfathers, Robert Robinson Taylor, was an architect who made history as the African American architect, and the first African American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Her father ran a hospital in Iran for children in Shiraz in 1956 as part of a program of American physicians that sought to help in the health efforts of developing countries. Her mother was one of four child advocates who created the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development in Chicago. Jarrett grew up speaking French and Persian in addition to English.
Jarrett earned a B.A. in psychology from Stanford University in 1978 and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981, as well as an honorary degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
She describes her role as that of a friend to the president, in addition to that of an advisor:
In a town where access is so important, initially it probably made people a little uncomfortable. I think that has faded. I just want to do my job, and part of my job for the president is to be his friend.
In 1983 she married William Robert Jarrett, son of Chicago Sun-Times reporter Vernon Jarrett. She attributes her switch from a private to a public career to the birth of their daughter, Laura, and her own desire to do something that would make their daughter proud.
Regarding her marriage, Jarrett has little to say; in one response to a reporter’s emailed question about her divorce she said: “Married in 1983, separated in 1987, and divorced in 1988. Enough said.” In a Vogue profile, she further explained, “We grew up together. We were friends since childhood. In a sense, he was the boy next door. I married without really appreciating how hard divorce would be.” William Jarrett died in 1993 at age 40, and at the time of his death was director of obstetrics and gynecology at Jackson Park Hospital.
5. Jarrett was Deeply Concerned with Racial Issues and Encouraged Obama to Give His Race Speech at Constitution Hall
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, according to Discover the Networks.
African-American administration staffers claimed 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.”
Discover the Networks also reports that 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 intervened, Obama told his white staffers that they were being too “gun-shy on race issues.”According to a campaign source, “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,” reports Discover the Network.