Released Memos Reveal That Allowing Trump to Appoint Relatives Reverses Decades of DOJ Advice


The Department of Justice advice allowing President Trump to appoint his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka represents a reversal of decades of previous legal advice based on memos obtained by Politico through a Freedom of Information Act request.


In January, a career Justice Department official essentially declared the earlier opinions erroneous or obsolete, clearing the way for President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to take a senior adviser position in the White House. First daughter Ivanka Trump later took a similar official but unpaid slot under the same legal rationale.

The newly-disclosed opinions, issued to the Nixon, Carter and Reagan White House and obtained by POLITICO Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request, detail how Justice Department lawyers concluded for decades that such appointments of family members were illegal under an anti-nepotism law passed in 1967.

Everyone seems to know how John F. Kennedy appointed his brother to be Attorney General but subsequent presidents have been counseled against appointing relatives to even minor White House positions. An anti-nepotism law was passed in 1967. Another law passed in 1978 appears to have largely negated the anti-nepotism law as it applies to Presidents. However, even after 1978, administrations were being counseled against hiring family members.

In 1983, Justice Department lawyers appear to have dissuaded the Reagan White House from naming an unidentified Reagan family member to an advisory panel on private-sector volunteer efforts. “We think the proposal to have a member of the President’s family serve actively on the Commission on Private Sector Initiatives raises virtually the same problems raised by Mrs. Carter’s proposed service,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Shanks wrote.

The documents released Monday also include the full text of a legal opinion Justice issued in 2009 to the Obama White House, concluding that the law did not permit the appointment of the president’s half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng to a commission on White House fellowships or the appointment of the president’s brother-in-law Conrad Robinson to a commission on physical fitness. Soetoro-Ng appears to have quietly left the fellowships panel, which she had joined before the legal memo was finalized. Robinson was never named to the fitness board.


That changed after Donald Trump’s election.

The opinion longtime Justice Department attorney Daniel Koffsky issued in January at the request of the incoming Trump administration concluded that another law passed in 1978 and conferring broad authority on the president to appoint White House officials essentially overrides the earlier anti-nepotism measure.

“We believe that the President’s special hiring authority [in the 1978 law] permits him to make appointments to the White House Office that the anti-nepotism statute might otherwise forbid,” Koffsky wrote in the opinion sent to White House Counsel Donald McGahn at his request.

This sounds like another instance—like accepting gifts—where elected officials despite having a lot more power and influence are held to a lesser standard than career government employees.

Nepotism is a shady way to do business regardless of the level at which one is working, though it’s easier to portray a low level manager who hires his ne’er do well brother in law over more qualified applicants as sleazy than it is for a President to hire a trusted relative to advise him but it’s essentially the same thing.

If nothing else it appears extremely lazy. A White House appointment carries enough prestige that a President could literally hire “the best people” as Trump promised throughout his campaign. It seems convenient that the “best person” for one of the top level White House jobs just happened to be the rich kid who married his daughter. That the Republican President supported by masses of people who claim to thrive on “liberal tears” hires Democrat relatives for top positions is a paradox I haven’t quite figured out. When it came to the Bush family or the Clintons, many of us hated the idea of our government being ruled by dynasties, but now it seems many are comfortable with electing a royal family.



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