President-elect Donald Trump is hiring his 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser, which could be interpreted as a violation of federal anti-nepotism laws, according to a former White House ethics lawyer. “Putting everything together, the advice is: Don’t do it,” Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told Fast Company.
But Painter noted that there have been different interpretations of the statute, which was established in the wake of President Kennedy’s controversial appointment of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general in the 1960s. Though ethics lawyers advised later presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, not to hire their relatives, the Clinton administration in 1993 came to a different determination. When considering how to hire Hillary Clinton as a health care policy adviser, a panel of judges decided that the anti-nepotism law didn’t apply to White House staff.
As a result, says Painter, Clinton paved the way for Jared Kushner’s hiring today. According to the lawyer’s reading of the statute, “you’d think Trump can’t do this,” but he said that since there are differing interpretations of the rule, it’s probably legal. But Painter emphasized that Kushner should avoid dealing with financial regulation, such as the likely repeal of Dodd-Frank, due to his massive real estate holdings, which involve bank loans.
Back in the Bush years, Painter says he once prohibited a senior adviser from getting his son picked for a White House internship. “Better to say, ‘Don’t do it,'” where the situation is debatable.