President Trump Hired His Daughter As An Adviser

Published: December 15, 2017

Attendees of the 2017 G20 summit included Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, U.S. President Donald Trump, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and .......... Ivanka Trump? Photograph: Reuters. 

From Selling Ankle Strap High Heel Pumps To Advising The President

On March 29, 2017, it was reported that Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Trump, would become an unpaid adviser to the President. 


She has been given an office in the White House, a government issued phone, a government issued computer, and security clearance to access classified information


And, as an adviser to the President, she has the opportunity to possibly influence policy.


This despite the fact that Ivanka has no prior diplomatic or public policy experience.


Ivanka herself has said that “there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president” serving in the capacity that she does. 

And she has also acknowledged that she “wouldn’t be here in Washington if my father wasn’t elected president.”


Nevertheless, she has chosen to knowingly break with democratic norms.


No single event put this deviation from the democratic norm in as stark relief as her actions on July 8, 2017 when she briefly took the President’s seat at a G20 meeting in Hamburg


This put Ivanka - whose qualifications for a position in the White House include her experiences selling ankle strap high heel pumps and platform wedge sandals, walking obnoxiously while wearing outlandish attire, and working for her crooked four times bankrupt father at the Trump Organization - at a table with China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Anti-nepotism Statute


A 1967 anti-nepotism law – enacted after President Kennedy appointed his brother Robert as attorney general – states that a “public official” may not employ a relative in any “agency” over which they “exercise jurisdiction or control.” 

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

- 5 U.S.C. § 3110(b)


Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, “executive power shall be vested in the President of the United States.”


Thus, the President certainly exercises “jurisdiction or control” over the White House, as well as the rest of the Executive Branch of goverment.


And the anti-nepotism law explicitly defines “public official” to include the President.

‘‘[P]ublic official’’ means an officer (including the President and a Member of Congress) ..... in whom is vested the authority by law, rule, or regulation ..... to appoint, employ, promote, or advance individuals, or to recommend individuals for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement in connection with employment in an agency. [emphasis added]

- 5 U.S.C. § 3110(a)(2)


It also explicitly defines “relative” to include a son-in-law or daughter.

‘‘[R]elative’’ means, with respect to a public official, an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister. [emphasis added]

- 5 U.S.C. § 3110(a)(3)


Moreover, it explicitly states that the term “agency” includes executive agencies, precluding Ivanka from a taking position as a cabinet secretary.

For the purposes of this section - "agency" means - an Executive agency .....

- 5 U.S.C. § 3110(a)(1)(a)


However, it does not explicitly state that the term “agency” is defined to include staff positions, such as “adviser” or “senior adviser,” in the White House.


The resulting ambiguity opened the door for Pres. Trump’s appointment of his daugther to a White House position.

The Clinton Precedent


Moreover, there is precedent for a President appointing a family member to a White House staff position.


When President Bill Clinton appointed his wife, Hillary, to lead his Task Force on Health Care Reform, the couple was sued by a lobbying group.


The lawsuit did not argue that Hillary’s appointment to head the Task Force constituted nepotism. 


Rather the lawsuit claimed that, since Hillary cannot be an official government employee under the anti-nepotism statute, the meeting of her health-care task force should be open to the public.


Nevertheless, the case did touch on the issue of how to interpret the word “agency” in the anti-nepotism statute.


The result of the lawsuit was a 1993 opinion from the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals which stated, “We doubt that Congress intended to include the White House or the Executive Office of the President” in the definition of the word “agency” in the anti-nepotism statute. 


It goes on to state, “So, for example, a President would be barred from appointing his brother as Attorney General, but perhaps not as a White House special assistant.” 


It also states, “The anti-nepotism statute, moreover, may well bar appointment only to paid positions in government. ... Thus, even if it would prevent the President from putting his spouse on the federal payroll, it does not preclude his spouse from aiding the President in the performance of his duties.”


This opinion thus suggests that a President could appoint family members to unpaid informal advisory positions in the White House without running afoul of the federal anti-nepotism law.

Department of Justice Opinion


On January 21, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a 14-page opinion on the anti-nepotism statute. 


The DOJ opinion argued that a 1978 law gives the President broad discretion to appoint White House staff members unconstrained by the 1967 anti-nepotism statute.


Specifically, the DOJ pointed to the following portion of the 1978 law:


“[T]he President is authorized to appoint and fix the pay of employees in the White House Office without regard to any other provision of law regulating the employment or compensation of persons in the Government service. Employees so appointed shall perform such official duties as the President may prescribe.”

- 3 U.S.C. § 105(a)(1)


Such an interpretation renders moot the issue of whether the White House is an “agency” for the purposes of the anti-nepotism statute.


The DOJ opinion also argued that it is not possible to prevent a President from seeking advice from a family member in an informal capacity: “Congress has not blocked, and most likely could not block, the President from seeking advice from family members in their personal capacities. ..... Consequently, even if the anti-nepotism statute prevented the President from employing relatives in the White House as advisors, he would remain free to consult those relatives as private citizens.”


Working on this assumption, the DOJ then seems to imply that we are better off having the family members serve in official positions because at least they would then be forced to reduce their conflicts of interests: “A President wanting a relative’s advice on governmental matters therefore 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.”


In other words, a President may consult a family member informally, in which case the person is not subject to conflict of interest rules, or, a President may appoint them to a White House staff position, in which case they are.



While the DOJ may well be correct in its estimation that Congress could not realistically legislate to stop a President from seeking the advice of, say, his wife, after retiring to the White House residence, it is fallacious to equate informal discussions with the appointing of a family member to a position in which she has access to classified information, has tried to shape labor policy, and has claimed that tech education is part of her "White House portfolio" despite having no background in either tech or education.


Ivanka does not merely provide Pres. Trump with passing occasional advice. Rather, she appears to have staked out a wide-ranging domestic policy portfolio for herself. 


And as to the suggestion that it is more democratic to have family members in formal positions because it would force them to reduce their conflicts of interest, Ivanka has not ensured the absence of conflicts of interest, despite having been appointed to a formal position.


The appointment of Pres. Trump’s daughter as a White House adviser is more befitting of an autocracy than a democracy.


That the federal anti-nepotism statute does not prevent such appointments is a serious oversight on the part of past governments and represents a failure to imagine a scenario in which an aspiring autocrat would test the resilience of the nation's democratic institutions. 


A future government should reform the anti-nepotism statute to explicitly preclude members of a President’s family from being appointed to White House staff positions and ensure that this restriction is not rendered ineffective by any other statutes.