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Trump Names Son-In-Law As A Senior Adviser Raising More Ethics Issues


President-elect Trump has made an announcement long-expected. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will serve as senior adviser. Now Kushner is praised, including by Democrats, as a calming influence on Trump. He's also a real estate developer with many business conflicts. And then there's his relationship to the president-elect. Decades ago, after John F. Kennedy named his brother as attorney general, Congress passed an anti-nepotism law to ensure appointees serve the United States, not their families. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: President-elect Trump announced Jared Kushner would have a key leadership role in the new administration on Monday, one day before Kushner's 36th birthday. Like his father-in-law, Kushner has made a mark as a real estate developer, but he's also been an important influential voice in Trump's inner circle.

JULIAN ZELIZER: It's clear that the president-elect very much wanted him to continue serving some advisory capacity.

NORTHAM: Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, says it's not surprising Trump wants to keep Kushner close by.

ZELIZER: The only question was nepotism and ethics. And it seems like President-elect Trump thinks that this won't be a problem in the end.

NORTHAM: An anti-nepotism law was passed in 1967 to prevent a president from placing a relative in a Cabinet or a federal agency job. That law was challenged when President Bill Clinton named Hillary Clinton to lead a task force on health care. A federal judge ruled in that case the anti-nepotism law doesn't apply to White House staff jobs. Still, Darrell West, director of governance at the Brookings Institution, says the move could backfire on Trump because it exudes nepotism.

DARRELL WEST: Very few presidents actually go this route because it's very controversial. It always looks bad. It's - even if it's legal, it is not politically wise.

NORTHAM: Kushner will not be paid in his new role, but West says Kushner's business dealings, which include investors from foreign countries, could present conflicts of interest. Jamie Gorelick, Kushner's lawyer, says he plans to divest from his real estate holdings in anticipation of serving in public office.

JAMIE GORELICK: He is going to restructure his business so that he will no longer have any active involvement in the Kushner company entities, which are real estate entities mostly in New York.

NORTHAM: Gorelick says Kushner also plans to divest a substantial number of his assets before taking up his new role. She says, right now Kushner is doing everything he can to comply with the ethics rules. She thinks that might be enough to silence the critics. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF 3ND'S "MIDROLL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.