Since Trump’s election, no one (other than the President himself) has been more obviously present at the White House than his daughter, Ivanka. Look! There she is with her adorable children watching her father sign executive orders. Look again! She’s sitting at her father’s desk in the oval office on International Women’s Day. Awww, little Theo is taking his first steps in the East Wing, how adorbs.
But then things got kind of serious. Ivanka Trump’s recent presence at meetings with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left many wondering what exactly is Ivanka’s role in the White House. To help clear this up, Ivanka has made an official statement that she will be joining her father’s administration in an unspecified role. She will not be a government employee, but she will now have her own office in a government building with government issued devices and will be advising the top government official. The only description of her unofficial official role is that she will be her father’s eyes and ears in the White House. Not weird at all. So now that that’s clear. Many people are left wondering, if this ain’t nepotism, what is? And, isn’t there a law against that? The answer is yes, and yes, but also yes, and no. Let me explain.
In brief, the anti-nepotism law prohibits a federal officer “from appointing, promoting, or recommending for appointment or promotion any “relative” of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control.” It is sometimes referred to as “the Bobby Kennedy Law” as it came into place six years after JFK appointed his brother Bobby as the U.S. Attorney General. After LBJ, who loathed RFK, became President, he signed the law which barred future presidents from naming any family member to the Cabinet. The anti-nepotism provision was actually a rider to a bill that established salary rates for postal workers and other government employees. This law, however, generally doesn’t apply when it comes to the President’s staff. And perhaps for good reason. As deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Daniel Koffsky, points out, “A President wanting a relative’s advice on governmental matters has a choice: to seek that advice on an unofficial, ad hoc basis without conferring the status and imposing the responsibilities that accompany formal White House positions; or to appoint his relative to the White House under title 3 and subject him to substantial restrictions against conflicts of interest.”
Given that, in all likelihood, the President is going to seek out advice from whomever he chooses, its better to have that person fill an official role, and therefore be subject to the same ethics standards as everyone else working in the White House. We saw this play out when Trump brought Jared Kushner onto his staff in January. The general consensus, despite the media hysteria, was that there was no solid legal base for not allowing Kushner to be an official advisor to the President.
So, the question now, is why not do the same with Ivanka seeing as her hiring would not violate anti-nepotism laws? The Trump administration would legally be able to hire Ivanka in an official capacity to work as part of his staff, yet for some unknown reason, it has chosen not to. To be clear, just because hiring Ivanka wouldn’t violate the anti-nepotism law, Ivanka’s “non” appointment is 100% nepotism. She has zero experience in policy or politics, and it is safe to say had she not been the president’s daughter, she would never have come close securing a position this high up in the government. But that’s not the issue at hand. The issue is, instead of Ivanka voluntarily complying with ethics standard (which means absolutely nothing) why not just hire her in an official capacity so that she is legally required to comply with ethics standards?