Politics

Trump’s son-in-law explores joining administration

Husband of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, arrives outside offices of Republican president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, New York, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
REUTERS/File
Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, at Trump Tower in New York earlier this week.

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald Trump, has consulted with lawyers about the possibility of joining the new administration, a move that could run afoul of federal nepotism laws and would all but certainly invite legal challenges.

Kushner, 35, had been planning to return to his private businesses after Election Day. But on the morning after Trump won, he began discussing a role in the White House, according to two people briefed on his discussions, who requested anonymity to describe his thinking.

Trump is urging him to join, according to one of the people briefed, a sentiment shared by Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist for the White House, and Reince Priebus, who was named chief of staff.

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Kushner has consulted with at least one lawyer and believes that by forgoing a salary and putting his investment fund, his real estate holdings and his newspaper, The New York Observer, into a blind trust, he would not be bound by federal nepotism rules, according to one of the people briefed.

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Still, it is not clear that such an arrangement would be legal. Under federal statute, the president cannot accept voluntary services that are not permitted by law, and a separate statute bars public officials from employing family members in any capacity.

Those discussions were disclosed as Trump’s transition pivoted on Thursday, trying to leave behind the disarray of its first week for an accelerated schedule of official meetings, including Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with a world leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.

Later Thursday, Trump’s team planned to announce the officials who will coordinate the handoff at the crucial national security agencies, as well as at the Justice Department. These so-called landing teams will make contact with the Pentagon and the State Department and begin the transfer of control to the new administration. For people in the vast government bureaucracy, it will be the first time since Trump’s victory last week that they have heard from a representative of the incoming administration.

These emissaries will also provide an insight into the new administration’s priorities for running the government’s national security apparatus, since they will populate the agencies with hundreds of political appointees, from deputy secretaries to midlevel officials.

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Trump’s aides have dismissed reports that the transition was in flux. They said that the news media and disgruntled people were stoking negative accounts, and that the wholesale shake-up of the transition leadership ranks — including the ouster of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — reflected a drive by Vice President-elect Mike Pence to rid the operation of lobbyists.

Trump, who has continued to work out of his office in Trump Tower, was scheduled to receive a stream of visitors on Thursday, including Henry A. Kissinger, a former secretary of state; Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, who has emerged as a candidate for secretary of state; Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the top officer at the military’s Cyber Command; and Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army who has been a longtime informal adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Some of these visitors, like Haley, are candidates for Cabinet posts. Others, like Kissinger, were invited to give the president-elect counsel. Keane, who has advised Republicans as well as Democrats, was an early proponent of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. He has called for more aggressive U.S. military action to counter the Islamic State.

The frenzy of speculation about marquee Cabinet posts continued, with Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, seen as a leading contender to take over the Department of Homeland Security. But Trump’s staff appeared to be working on a more methodical schedule of interviewing candidates.

Still, the confusion of the first few days has left a mark. The State Department, for example, has had no role in planning for Trump’s meeting with Abe, who leads America’s linchpin ally in the Pacific. During the campaign, Trump made several provocative remarks about Japan, declaring that it needed to pay more to provide for its own defense and suggesting that it consider acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Trump also vowed to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Barack Obama’s ambitious Asian trade deal, on which Abe expended significant political capital at home to join.

“We stand ready to support him and his team with any information that they might require,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said on Wednesday. “We are ready and able to provide context if it is desired.”

“There has been no outreach to date,” he added.

Some of the people said to be in the running for top positions in a Trump administration have come under scrutiny.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is on a shortlist for secretary of state, is grappling with questions about his web of business ties, including to foreign states like Qatar, and the millions of dollars he was paid for speeches.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is being considered for attorney general or defense secretary, has been criticized for racially tinged comments he made as a federal prosecutor in Alabama decades ago. Those comments helped capsize his nomination by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal district judge.