By Michael S. Schmidt
and Eric Lipton
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Saturday that President Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser did not violate federal anti-nepotism laws.
In a 14-page opinion issued 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 a federal agency. The White House, the department said, is not technically an “executive agency.”
The opinion was issued a day after Trump was sworn into office.
Some legal experts had raised concerns that 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 decision issued Saturday paves the way for Kushner, 35, to have nearly unfettered access to Trump in the Oval Office. Kushner is Trump’s closest adviser and was a figure of stability throughout the campaign and the transition.
Trump announced Jan. 9 that he would appoint Kushner to the post and that Kushner would not accept a salary. His portfolio is expected to include the Middle East and Israel, government partnerships with the private sector and matters involving free trade.
On Thursday, Trump lavished praise on Kushner at a candlelight dinner for donors at Union Station in Washington.
“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” 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 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, Ivanka Trump.
He will also be required to file a financial disclosure report that details his assets and income, and to divest holdings that could create a conflict of interest.
“The law is ambiguous on this, particularly with respect to appointments by the president,” said Richard W. Painter, a White House lawyer in the Bush administration. “I am not sure I agree with Justice, but it is a reasonable interpretation. But what is important now is that Kushner complies with the conflict of interest and disclosure provisions, and I wish his father-in-law, the president, would do the same.”
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. Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general in the Bill Clinton administration, said she had been consulting with federal ethics officials to try to minimize opposition to Kushner’s appointment.