Houston, we have a problem. Yesterday, the Trump Transition team announced that Trump’s son-in-law and “visionary” Jared Kushner had been named Senior Advisor to the President. This is a problem because, as George Takei has pointed out,
“This isn’t a dynasty. The emperor doesn’t get to appoint his son-in-law as chief advisor. There are rules and laws against this.”
This is a matter of great concern because neither Kushner nor his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who plans to live in the White House in the role of First Lady, plan to divest themselves of their business ties.
Like these, brought to our attention by Steven Rattner, who knows a thing or two about Wall Street:
Some of Jared Kushner's many conflicts of interest. Even if he manages to skirt anti-nepotism laws, these should disbar him: pic.twitter.com/Ak8XQ6csQV
— Steven Rattner (@SteveRattner) January 9, 2017
No mention is made of nepotism, let alone 5 U.S. Code § 3110 – Employment of relatives; restrictions, or of conflicts of interests, in the statement released by the Trump Transition team:
President-elect Donald J. Trump today announced Jared Kushner will serve as Senior Advisor to the President. Kushner will work closely with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon to execute President-elect Trump’s agenda. Together, Bannon, Priebus and Kushner have formed an effective leadership team.
Kushner, a widely respected businessman and real estate developer was instrumental in formulating and executing the strategy behind President-elect Trump’s historic victory in November. Kushner has chosen to forego his salary while serving in the administration.
“Jared has been a tremendous asset and trusted advisor throughout the campaign and transition and I am proud to have him in a key leadership role in my administration,” said President-elect Trump. “He has been incredibly successful, in both business and now politics. He will be an invaluable member of my team as I set and execute an ambitious agenda, putting the American people first.”
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus added, “Jared is a visionary with a rare ability to communicate with and assemble broad coalitions of support. His entrepreneurial mindset will be a great asset to the team as well as his open mind, adaptability and keen intellect.”
“It is an honor to serve our country,” said Kushner. “I am energized by the shared passion of the President-elect and the American people and I am humbled by the opportunity to join this very talented team.”
“Why are news orgs buying Trump team spin that anti-nepotism law on books for 50 yrs somehow doesn’t apply to Trump administration?”
Boehlert is talking about the 1967 federal anti-nepotism statute that is still in force, as CNN’s Keith Boykin points out:
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 9, 2017
So here is Donald Trump flouting not only conflicts of interest concerns but nepotism laws. You will note in the transition statement that Kushner is not taking a salary, no doubt in the hopes that this will let him escape the nepotism laws. Kushner himself declined to comment about nepotism last night. Of course, Trump has already shown us that he doesn’t think rules or laws – even commonly accepted social norms – apply to him.
Kellyanne Conway told Morning Joe that there is an “exception” to the law, even though there were no exceptions for Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter. Of course, Democrats have to undergo ethics investigations too, and Republicans don’t.
However, actual people familiar with the law say Conway is not correct. The Wall Street Journal cites Kathleen Clark, “a legal ethics expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis,” who says not taking a salary doesn’t put Kushner in the clear:
“It’s not as though if you can forgo a salary, you can get a carte blanche and ignore ethics rules,” said Ms. Clark, adding that a legal challenge may be in the offing.
“President-elect Trump appears to be attempting to violate the anti-nepotism statute and see whether he can get away with it,” she said.
Though you can be pretty sure – Conway’s claims aside – what lawmakers intended was that the president can hire who he wants as long as it doesn’t violate the law, that is precisely what Donald Trump is doing.
And so far, it’s working pretty well, as Republicans in Congress helpfully ignore ethics checks for his cabinet appointees. There is very little likelihood Republicans will do anything to hamper Trump at this point.
Our fragile democratic system, our Constitution, work, because everybody agrees to the rules. Donald Trump says rules don’t apply to him, and apparently, the Republican Party has agreed that our system of laws, the American experiment itself, counts as nothing beside the wishes of Donald Trump.