Libby Nelson · Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 9:28 am
Ivanka Trump’s power behind the scenes in the White House is about to become official — unofficially. Trump is getting her own office in the West Wing, a security clearance, and a government-issued phone, according to Politico. She won’t be paid a salary or be sworn in. The role is described as “unofficial,” but it sounds official in all but name.
Her appointment is pure nepotism: There is nothing on her résumé that suggests Ivanka Trump is qualified, by any traditional definition of the term, to advise the president of the United States. But for President Donald Trump she has two qualities that likely outweigh any others — she’s a Trump, and she’s going to be loyal to him.
Ivanka Trump, who is 35 and has a bachelor’s degree in business, is best known for running a relatively small apparel line branded with her name, for appearing on The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice alongside her father, and for writing a memoir/career advice book, The Trump Card.
By all accounts, she was a capable lieutenant to her father at the Trump Organization, where she oversaw global expansion and the development of the president’s hotel in Washington, DC’s Old Post Office building. Still, this is not the type of résumé most White House jobs are built on. She’ll have access to well-guarded information about national security, and, according to Politico, her portfolio of issues won’t be confined to the family policy she spent most of her campaign trail time discussing.
Ivanka Trump’s role, her lawyer told Politico, is to be her father’s “eyes and ears” in the White House. In an administration that spent its first two months riven by very public leaks and infighting, Trump has apparently decided, as he did in his business career, that his own children are the only people he can really trust.
Nepotism is illegal — but the Trump administration has decided it doesn’t apply to the White House
Giving Ivanka Trump a West Wing office might be nepotism. But it’s not illegal nepotism. The Justice Department ruled that federal anti-nepotism laws don’t apply to the president’s choice of White House advisers. The day Trump was inaugurated, the Justice Department determined that it would be legal for him to appoint Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and Ivanka Trump’s husband.
“A President wanting a relative's advice on governmental matters therefore has a choice: to seek that advice on an unofficial, ad hoc basis without conferring the status and imposing the responsibilities that accompany formal White House positions,” the Justice Department’s Daniel Koffsky, a deputy assistant attorney general, wrote, “or to appoint his relative to the White House under title 3 and subject him to substantial restrictions against conflicts of interest.”
In other words: Trump is going to get advice from his relatives anyway, so he might as well get it in a role that puts some ethical restrictions around what they can do.
Congress passed a federal anti-nepotism law in the 1960s. Before that, the only unusual thing about an appointment like Trump’s would be that she was the president’s daughter — not the president’s brother or the president’s son.
John F. Kennedy made his brother Robert attorney general and put his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, in charge of the Peace Corps. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son worked in the White House as an assistant staff secretary. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son James served as secretary of the president, an important coordinating job akin to the modern position of chief of staff. (In an episode with additional resonance for Trump watchers, James Roosevelt was also accused of profiting personally from his father’s presidency and had to publish his tax returns to prove he had not.)
Then in 1967, a federal anti-nepotism law reforming the Post Office prohibited executive branch officials from appointing their relatives to jobs in the agencies they oversee. Legal experts disagree on whether the law applies to the president and to jobs in the White House. But some presidents have decided to play it safe: When President Bill Clinton tapped Hillary Clinton to oversee his health care overhaul, he put her in charge of a task force rather than giving her an official White House job.
Today, Kushner and Ivanka Trump have already disclosed information about their finances and divested from some stocks as part of Kushner’s White House role, according to Politico. Still, Ivanka still owns her apparel and jewelry company, and she won’t legally be bound by federal regulations on conflicts of interest if she isn’t a White House employee. It’s not clear why the Justice Department’s logic for why Trump should appoint Kushner rather than consulting him informally doesn’t also apply to his daughter.