Nepotism Laws: Can Trump Appoint His Son-In-Law?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There have been major concerns regarding the intermingling of President-elect Donald Trump's business and family relationships, and how those might change once he takes office. When Rudy Giuliani addressed these recently, he said that taking the Trump businesses away from the Trump children "would be putting them out of work," highlighting that "they can't work in the government because of the government rule against nepotism."

The rule might be especially important when it comes to Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who acted as a close advisor during the presidential campaign and who Trump is rumored to have tabbed for a senior spot in his White House. So what is the federal law against nepotism say? And does it apply to Kushner's possible appointment?

Employment Eligibility

A federal statute on the employment of relatives states: "A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official."

The same statute defines a "public official" as an officer, "including the President," and "relative" as "an individual who is related to the public official as ... son-in-law" (among other familial relationships). The law was passed in 1967 after John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general, and has been cited to bar an internship for then-President Jimmy Carter's son.

Skirting the Statute

While the statute plainly prohibits Trump from giving Kushner an official role in the White House, some have speculated that the president-elect would still allow his son-in-law to have some advisory role on a volunteer basis. But, as the New York Times notes, another federal statute makes it a crime for government employees, of which Trump would be one, to accept voluntary services not authorized by law.

In any case, Trump would have to question whether Kushner's appointment would be worth the political backlash and possible investigations, something the soon-to-be president will have to grapple with concerning many of his familial and business relationships.

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