Democratic leaders in Congress call on the U.S. Department of Justice and a government ethics watchdog to look into president-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner to a top Cabinet position.
On Monday, Trump named Kushner, 35, as one of the incoming administration’s senior advisers. The nomination stirred a lot of controversy as Kushner is the husband of Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s 35-year-old daughter. Democrats claim the appointment may infringe current anti-nepotism laws.
Democrats Concerned about Potential Conflicts of Interest
Senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent the DOJ a letter in which they asked the agency to review current laws. They are concerned the laws may bar Kushner from assuming the role. Kushner announced he won’t take a salary while he is in the new position. The letter reached the Office of Government Ethics, which is expected to assess the situation too.
Democrats also seek a full review of Trump’s son-in-law’s probable conflicts of interest. They say that having access to information on the administration’s policies could benefit his business empire. In the letter, lawmakers argue Kushner might abuse his position to change policies so they suit his business interests.
They even suggested a recent meeting between the young businessman and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan his financial interests. The two met to discuss future tax reform. Kushner may use his White House position “for private gain”. This means he might push for tax policies that benefit him and his family, the letter reads.
The U.S.A.’s anti-nepotism laws clearly state a public official cannot nominate, use, or advocate for the nomination of a relative in a public position within an “agency” in which the public official serves or over which he or she exercises control or jurisdiction.
According to the laws, ‘public official’ can refer to the president of the United States while “relative” includes sons-in-law. Experts, on the other hand, claim the nomination doesn’t violate the laws because the appointee will not accept a salary.
Kushner’s Legal Team Dismisses Concerns
Kushner’s lawyers recently announced that their client would distance himself from his businesses, resign from his firms’ boards and recuse himself if needed. Kushner’s attorneys also said the appointment is not a case of nepotism.
They cited a 1978 law which authorizes the U.S. commander-in-chief to select staffers for the White House Office regardless of anti-nepotism laws. What’s more, even if Congress hadn’t passed the law, the appointment would still be legal. A couple of D.C. Circuit decisions suggest the White House does not fall under the “agency” category from the anti-nepotism laws. And the Justice Department embraced this interpretation of the law under two presidents: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush respectively.
Kushner’s legal team also disclosed they are working closely with the Office of Government Ethics on the issue. They added Kushner has no plan to infringe federal ethics laws. Even though Ivanka Trump is not interested in a Cabinet position, House Democrats requested more details on her and her husband’s plans to distance themselves from the family business. They also urged DOJ to take any ‘appropriate’ actions if necessary.
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