WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump has selected George Conway III, the husband of his counselor Kellyanne Conway, to head the civil division of the Justice Department, people familiar with the decision said Saturday, placing him in charge of a crucial office charged with defending Trump’s contentious travel ban and lawsuits alleging that his business activities violate the Constitution.
Conway, 53, would lead a department of about 1,000 lawyers that has vast reach across the government, handling issues like national security and consumer protection and enforcing federal programs and the actions of the president himself.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on a personnel matter, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests. The people familiar with Trump’s decision confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to preempt an impending announcement. The choice was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
If confirmed, Conway would immediately be in charge of representing Trump in the legal challenges — which are widely expected to reach the Supreme Court — over his executive order barring people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The White House narrowed the directive after its original version was blocked last month by judges who said it did not advance national security interests and violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, people holding visas and refugees.
But last week, two other federal judges — one in Hawaii and one in Maryland — moved to block the revised order, suggesting that it probably constituted religious discrimination and was in essence a back-door Muslim ban of the sort Trump promised during his presidential campaign.
It would also fall to Conway to oversee Trump’s defense in a pending lawsuit charging him with violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans federal officeholders from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments, because of the profits his hotels and resorts receive from foreign officials who are customers.
Before he was inaugurated, Trump’s personal lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-market-value transactions,” such as paying for hotel rooms. But the lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group on government corruption, contends the clause does bar such transactions.
George Conway had been a contender for solicitor general for the Trump administration, but Trump selected Noel J. Francisco.
George Conway is a partner at the New York City firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. He specializes in securities, contract and antitrust litigation, as well as mergers and acquisitions, according to his biography on the firm’s website. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School.