As the President-elect Donald Trump prepares to enter the White House next week, he might be putting legal precedent to its first test, with his effort to appoint Jared Kushner to a senior administration role.
“I see this as Trump’s first attempt to ignore the law, act in violation of the law, and he’s going to see if he can get away with it,” Washington University Law School Professor Kathleen Clark told the Washington Post, asserting the Kushner pick breaches a law against nepotism. “President-elect Trump, in my view, is testing the waters to see if he can get away with violating what I would call this government ethics provision. And whether President-elect Trump gets away with this depends, it seems to me, in part on the public response as well as the congressional response.”
Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, has claimed that he will comply with government ethics rules by stepping down as the head of his family real estate empire and divesting himself of certain assets. But while that may comply with conflict of interest rules, the nepotism question might remain.
After President John F. Kennedy chose his brother Robert Kennedy for Attorney General, Congress passed a law that prohibited leaders from installing their relatives in White House roles. Trump and his allies have pointed to a line that one judge wrote in an opinion on whether the First Lady was a federal officer to support their claim that the nepotism law does not apply to the president. But Clark said that statement wasn’t legally binding, and presents a weak basis on which to defend the appointment.
According to her, the Kushner appointment could have severe ramifications if it sticks. “We’ll see whether President Trump is required to follow the law or not,” she told the Post. “And so, I think this is enormously significant, because it’s an initial test of whether — we’ve seen as a candidate, Donald Trump has violated norms, and now we’re going to see whether he also plans to violate the law.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.