Asserting that anti-nepotism laws do not apply to the executive branch of government, President-elect Donald Trump is planning to appoint son-in-law Jared Kushner to a White House advisory position, aides said Monday.
Trump himself appeared to confirm the Kushner appointment in short question-and-answer sessions with reporters, telling them that “we’ll talk about that on Wednesday” at a scheduled news conference.
Aides said the husband of Ivanka Trump is working to wrap up his own business affairs in preparation for a move to Washington.
Kushner “is spending a lot of money on lawyers and compliance lawyers and has a real interest in bringing what has been tremendous business acumen and political instincts during the campaign into the White House as a senior adviser to his father-in-law the president,” incoming presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told USA TODAY.
While federal law prevents public officials from appointing relatives “to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction,” Trump officials said that prohibition does not apply to presidents.
Said Conway: “The president has the right to appoint who he wants if you look at the law.”
Trump plans to make Kushner a White House employee, meaning he is subject to federal conflict of interest laws.
Jamie Gorelick, an attorney representing Kusher, said he is “committed to complying with federal ethics laws, and we have been consulting with the Office of Government Ethics regarding the steps he would take.”
While the details of his White House appointment are still being worked out, Gorelick said Trump’s son-in-law would resign from Kushner Companies and divest his “substantial assets” in compliance with federal law.
“He would recuse from particular matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on his remaining financial interests,” said Gorelick, a deputy attorney general for President Clinton who is now partner at the WilmerHale law firm and chairman of its Regulatory and Government Affairs Department. “He would also abide by federal rules requiring impartiality in particular matters involving specific parties.”
Kushner, who turns 36 years old this week, has served as a close adviser to Trump, both before and after his victory.
When Trump visited the White House two days after the election to meet with President Obama, Kushner accompanied him and spoke with outgoing White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Relatives have worked in previous presidential administrations.
President Woodrow Wilson’s first secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, became his son-in-law during that administration. John Eisenhower, son of President Dwight Eisenhower, worked for a top White House aide. Perhaps most famously, President John Kennedy made brother Robert Kennedy his attorney general.
In 1967, however, Congress passed a law banning employment of relatives: “A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.”
Trump aides cited legal rulings saying Congress cannot apply that law to executive branch appointments, including a case involving Hillary Clinton’s work as chair of a health care task force created by President Bill Clinton. Members of a judicial panel in that case pointed out that, whole a section of the law did cited “executive agency” as well as the Cabinet, “we doubt that Congress intended to include the White House or the Executive Office of the President.”
Richard Painter, a chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said that on its face the law applies to all officials, including presidents. But Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, also said that “a good argument could be made the other way.”
Said Painter: “The upshot is it’s unclear.”
In his brief appearances before reporters, Trump declined to answer questions Monday about Russia and the election, but he did predict that the Senate will confirm all of his Cabinet nominees.
“Confirmation is going great,” the president-elect told reporters at Trump Tower. “They’re all at the highest level.”
Wednesday’s news conference is also expected to include discussion of what he will do with his business interests, Trump said: “It’s very very easy to do.”
Asked specifically about Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, Trump said: “No, I think he’s going to do great. High quality man.”
Trump also declined to answer questions about the intelligence report that Russia interfered in last year’s election by hacking Democratic campaign officials. “We’ll talk about that at another time,” he said.
Trump spoke briefly with reporters after meeting with a key figure in his forthcoming presidency — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — who also had little to say afterward.
“The president-elect and I had a good meeting about the Senate’s agenda, which of course includes confirming the Cabinet appointments, (and) getting further down the road towards repealing and replacing Obamacare,” McConnell told reporters at Trump Tower.
He added: “We simply talked about the Senate agenda and how we’re ready to get going once he gets down there.”
McConnell ignored questions about the intelligence report that Russia interfered in last year’s election by hacking Democratic campaign officials, but he did respond to queries about ethics reviews of Trump Cabinet nominees.
“Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get up to six or seven — particularly national security team in place — on Day One,” McConnell said.
Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20.