Breaking with decades of precedent, a Justice Department lawyer dismissed anti-nepotism guidelines that denied four former presidents from hiring family members in order to grant President Donald Trump the "freedom" to name son-in-law Jared Kushner to a top White House job.
Legal memos issued during four previous presidencies stated it was unlawful for presidents to hire family members, but Deputy Assistant Attorney General Daniel Koffsky changed the department's longstanding opinion on January 20, paving the way for Trump to hire Kushner and eventually daughter Ivanka Trump.
Past presidents have made attempts to name family members to commissions and posts before. Obama attempted to name his half-sister to a fellowship commission and his brother-in-law to a fitness commission in 2009, according to The Hill, but Obama was advised against doing so by then acting assistant attorney general David Barron.
The memos, released Tuesday by Justice under a Freedom of Information Act request by Politico, were legal advice offered by the Office of Legal Counsel over an anti-nepotism law passed by Congress in 1967. And until Trump entered the White House, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were all held to the federal statute.
In Carter’s case, he wanted his wife and First Lady Rosalynn Carter to be chairman of a Commission on Mental Health but Justice cited the anti-nepotism law and turned down the action in February 1977.
Reagan also tried to appoint a family member to his Commission on Private Sector Initiatives and Justice cited the Carter administration case as the reason for turning back the appointment in February 1983.
But the very same statute was interpreted much differently by Koffsky.
“In choosing his personal staff, the President enjoys an unusual degree of freedom, which Congress found suitable to the demands of his office,” Koffsky wrote.
Koffsky’s conclusion evidently matched a legal analysis conjured up by Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick, according to The Washington Post. Koffsky has spent more than 20 years at Justice.
Following Trump’s election victory in November, there were initial concerns that Kushner – who played a major role in the campaign – might not be allowed to work in the White House. The debate has centered over the law’s wording, with legal experts focusing on whether or not the president’s office is an “agency.”
Indeed, Koffsky specifically explained in his memo that the law “covers only appointments in an ‘agency,’ which the statute defines to include ‘Executive [agencies],’ and the White House Office is not an ‘Executive agency.'"
Ivanka Trump, the president’s oldest daughter, made her way to Washington and took on an official role in March.
Now the couple has found themselves at the heart of a private email scandal and the intense rigors of Washington, with Kushner charged by his father-in-law to cover a wide range of duties, including foreign policy in the Middle East. Though, each has reportedly scaled back their roles.