Jared Kushner, Trump’s Son-in-Law, Is Cleared to Serve as Adviser

by admin January 21, 2017 at 11:15 pm
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Jared Kushner arriving for the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has issued an opinion saying that President Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser does not violate federal anti-nepotism laws.

In a 14-page opinion issued on Friday by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, government lawyers said that the president’s special hiring authority exempted White House positions from federal laws barring the president from appointing relatives to lead federal agencies.

Some legal experts had raised concerns that Mr. Kushner’s appointment violated a 1967 law that was intended to curtail nepotism in the federal government. Six years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had appointed his brother Robert as attorney general.

The new Justice Department opinion cited a subsequent 1978 law that gives the president the authority to appoint White House staff members without regard to other laws restricting employment and compensation of federal employees.

The opinion, issued shortly after Mr. Trump was sworn into office, appeared to reverse previous ones from the Justice Department. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the opinion noted, the department said his son could not serve as an unpaid assistant to a White House staff member.

It did not say how Mr. Kushner’s situation was different from the one involving Mr. Carter’s son.

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The decision issued on Saturday paves the way for Mr. Kushner, 35, to have nearly unfettered access to Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. Mr. Kushner is Mr. Trump’s closest adviser and was a figure of stability throughout the tumultuous campaign and the transition.

Mr. Kushner married Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009. He has run his family’s vast real estate company and has owned a newspaper, The New York Observer.

Mr. Trump announced on Jan. 9 that he would appoint Mr. Kushner to the post and that Mr. Kushner would not accept a salary. Mr. Kushner’s portfolio is expected to include the Middle East and Israel, government partnerships with the private sector and matters involving free trade.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump lavished praise on Mr. Kushner at a candlelight dinner for donors at Union Station in Washington.

“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Mr. Trump said.

Some prominent Washington ethics lawyers — including White House ethics lawyers in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations — had said they supported allowing Mr. Kushner to hold a formal position in the White House because that would make him subject to conflict-of-interest laws. He will be legally prevented from taking any action that could benefit his businesses or those of his family, including his wife.

Mr. Kushner intends to sell some assets to his brother and to put others into a trust overseen by his mother, said Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer who has worked on the plan. Ms. Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, said she had been consulting with federal ethics officials to try to address any conflict-of-interest issues associated with Mr. Kushner’s appointment.

He will also be required to file a financial disclosure report that details his assets and income, and to divest holdings that could create conflicts of interest.

In an email on Saturday, Ms. Gorelick said that “we believed that we had the better argument on this,” adding, “The Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department — in an opinion by a highly regarded career deputy assistant attorney general — adopted a position consistent with our own.”

Richard W. Painter, a White House lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said that while he had some doubts about the opinion, “it is a reasonable interpretation.”

“But what is important now,” he added, “is that Mr. Kushner complies with the conflict-of-interest and disclosure provisions, and I wish his father-in-law, the president, would do the same.”

Other legal scholars, noting that the new opinion was not consistent with past interpretations of the law, questioned whether it might have been influenced by Ms. Gorelick or others.

“It walks back from earlier positions the Justice Department took,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor and ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “It does seem to track one of the legal arguments that Jamie Gorelick put forward.”

Mr. Painter said that during the Bush administration, he had informed a senior official that he was legally barred from granting a White House internship to his son. Mr. Painter said he had given that counsel based on the Justice Department’s reading of the anti-nepotism law in the case of Mr. Carter’s son.

Mr. Painter said it would have been a safer course for the Trump administration to ask Congress to resolve the issue.

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