Asserting that anti-nepotism laws do not apply to the executive branch of government, President-elect Donald Trump said Monday he is appointing son-in-law Jared Kushner as a White House senior adviser.
“Jared has been a tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition and I am proud to have him in a key leadership role in my administration,” Trump said in a statement. “He has been incredibly successful, in both business and now politics."
While not mentioning that he is his son-in-law, Trump described Kushner as "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."
Calling the appointment an "honor," Kushner said in a statement he is "energized by the shared passion of the President-elect and the American people."
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.”
Kushner will not take a salary, Trump said, but he will be a White House employee; that means he is subject to federal conflict of interest laws.
Jamie Gorelick, an attorney representing Kushner, 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."