(WASHINGTON) — Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to express their concerns Monday with the news that President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law plans to take a post as a senior adviser in the incoming White House.
Leaders on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter calling on the Department of Justice and Office of Government Ethics to look into anti-nepotism laws that might limit what Kushner, who is expected not to take a salary, can and cannot do as he is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
The group of Democrats also asked for a further review of Kushner’s potential financial conflicts of interests, asserting that having information, knowledge or influence over the White House’s policies may benefit his business holdings.
“Mr. Kushner’s White House position may allow him to influence policy that benefits his business interests,” the letter addressed outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch read. “For example, it has been reported that he will meet with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan this evening to discuss tax policy which, at a minimum, raises the appearance that he may be using his public office for private gain — namely adopting tax changes which will benefit Mr. Kushner and his family.”
The federal anti-nepotism statute says: "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."
The statute includes the president in the definition of a "public official" and son-in-law in the definition of "relative," but Trump may have some latitude in the law's interpretation. Experts say not drawing a salary may go towards that.
Kushner plans to distance himself from his business interests through divesting "significant assets," resigning from his companies and recusing himself on certain matters, his lawyer said.
Regarding nepotism, Kushner's lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said that "this is not a close question." "In 1978, Congress authorized the President to hire personnel for the White House Office ‘without regard’ to federal personnel laws like the anti-nepotism statute," Gorelick said. "The Justice Department has described this authority as ‘unfettered’ and ‘sweeping.’ Even without that law, two D.C. Circuit decisions strongly suggest that the White House Office is not an “agency” under the anti-nepotism statute, a position supported by the views of the Justice Department under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush."
"Mr. Kushner 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," Gorelick added.
Ivanka Trump will not immediately assume a formal role in the White House. She also plans to take steps to divest from her business interests.
Kushner, 35, met privately with House Speaker Paul Ryan and incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus this evening to discuss tax reform and policy on Capitol Hill.
Still, the letter from the Democrats called for more details of his and Ivanka Trump’s plans to disentangle themselves from their business assets.
“Federal government officials are also required to recuse themselves from matters in which they have a financial interest," the letter said. "In light of the foregoing, and given the potential speed of developments, we urge DOJ to consider our concerns and to take any action it may deem appropriate promptly.”
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