US & Canada

Trump role for son-in-law Jared Kushner needs review, Democrats say

Jared Kushner Image copyright AP
Image caption Jared Kushner played an influential role in his father-in-law's presidential campaign

Democrats have called for US President-elect Donald Trump's naming of his son-in-law as a top adviser to be reviewed over concerns of nepotism and conflict of interest.

A group wants the Justice Department and Office of Government Ethics to scrutinise "legal issues" related to the appointment of Jared Kushner, 36.

His lawyer says the post does not breach anti-nepotism laws.

Mr Kushner is married to Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka.

The millionaire will step down as boss of his family's real estate business and publisher of the New York Observer newspaper in order to comply with ethics laws, his lawyer Jamie Gorelick said.

The influential Trump adviser will also divest "substantial assets", she said.

Mr Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th US president on 20 January.

Several of his cabinet picks have business interests that will be scrutinised at confirmation hearings taking place this week.

Mr Trump's selection for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, is the first to face Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday. He was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of alleged racist remarks.

Unlike cabinet positions, advisers are considered part of White House staff and do not require approval from Congress.

Who is Jared Kushner?

Softly-spoken and usually camera-shy, Mr Kushner is a vastly wealthy property developer and publisher who played an influential role in Mr Trump's presidential campaign and has been included in key meetings with foreign leaders during the transition period.

An Orthodox Jew whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, he was raised in Livingston, New Jersey, and went on to study sociology at Harvard.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ivanka Trump married Jared Kushner in 2009 and the couple have three children

His father, also a property mogul, was jailed for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering in 2005 by Chris Christie - then the US attorney for New Jersey.

Jared Kushner is said to have played a key role in the ousting of Mr Christie, by then New Jersey governor, from Mr Trump's presidential campaign team last year.

What will Mr Kushner be doing as senior White House adviser?

In his new role, Mr Kushner will initially focus on trade policy and the Middle East, according to officials from the transition team.

On Sunday, he and Mr Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon met UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump played prominent roles in Mr Trump's campaign

What is the nepotism law?

The rule, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, prevents public officials from promoting a relative "to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control".

It is thought to have been prompted by JFK's appointment of brother Robert to the post of attorney general in 1960

The law would stop a president from giving a cabinet job to a relative - but it is unclear whether it applies to positions in the White House team.

Those that say it does not point to President Bill Clinton's appointment of First Lady Hillary Clinton as chair of his health care reforms package in 1993.

What do Democrats say?

In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers, all members of the House Judiciary Committee, argue that a "strong case" can be made that the 1967 federal anti-nepotism statute applies to staff working in the White House, a position rejected by Mr Trump's team.

They also raise questions about how, even with significant divestment, Mr Kushner could completely avoid conflicts of interest in his White House role.

Concerns have been raised about his relationships with foreign investors. The New York Times reported on Saturday that the businessman met the head of an insurance group with links to the Chinese government over development plans for his skyscraper, 666 Fifth Avenue, just days after Mr Trump won the presidential election. His spokeswoman, quoted by the paper, said the timing of the meeting was a coincidence and he had already decided to sell his stake in the building.

As his appointment as special adviser was announced, Mr Kushner's lawyer, Ms Gorelick, said he was committed to complying with federal ethics laws and had consulted with the Office of Government Ethics about what steps to take.

She added that he would not be paid for the advisory role.

What about Ivanka?

Ivanka Trump will step down from executive roles at the Trump Organization as well as her own fashion brands.

But she will not be taking an official role in her father's government - for now at least - and instead will focus on raising her children.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's future home in the Kalorama neighbourhood of Washington, DC

Reports said last week that Ivanka and Jared and their children would be moving into a $5.5m (£4.5m) home in Washington DC's wealthy Kalorama neighbourhood - at least for some time. The Obama family are due to be moving to the same area after leaving the White House.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump announced in November that his wife, Melania, would be staying in New York - at least initially - after his inauguration to allow their youngest son, Barron, to finish the school year.

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