Kushner named as a senior White House adviser

New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner will become a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, Donald Trump, cementing the New York real estate executive’s role as a powerful and at times decisive influence on the president-elect.

Trump described his son-in-law as “a tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition” in a statement early Monday evening announcing the appointment.

Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, is closer to Donald Trump than any other adviser and has provided input on all of his father-in-law’s hiring decisions.

“The main thing with Jared,” a transition official said, “is that he’s got Trump’s back and Trump knows it.”

Ivanka Trump, who also participated in her father’s campaign decisions, has no plans to enter the administration and plans to restructure her portfolio of holdings, said Jamie S. Gorelick, Kushner’s lawyer. But she plans to step down from the management of the Trump Organization and the Ivanka Trump fashion brand, Gorelick said.

FILE -- Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Nov. 18, 2016. Kushner, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, is to be named senior adviser to the president. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)

Kushner, whose appointment has been challenged on the basis of a 1967 federal anti-nepotism law, plans to sell most of his New York holdings, his stake in his family’s real estate business and other assets to his brother and a trust overseen by his mother, Gorelick said.

Role: The move was a significant, even central, one for Donald Trump, who values familial loyalty above all else and, like Kushner, was groomed to run his father’s real estate empire. Kushner will be “the first among equals,” in the words of one former campaign official.

Kushner is expected to play the same role in the White House that he has had in the transition, with the counselors Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway providing the president-elect with strategic, messaging and communications advice, and Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the incoming chief of staff, running day-to-day operations in the West Wing.

Kushner will not take a salary and plans to work on issues involving the Middle East and Israel, as well as collaborate with Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, on matters involving free trade, Gorelick said.

The scion of a prominent Democratic family active in New Jersey politics, Kushner, 35, has no governmental experience and had never played an active role in a campaign before he began to advise Trump. As his father-in-law began to rise in the primary contests, Kushner, a Harvard graduate, occupied a steadying, stabilizing role. And he underwent something of a personal political transformation, coming to believe in Trump’s fiery and conservative economic message after spending months crisscrossing red and swing-state America with the campaign.

Kushner’s new role became public a day after the disclosure that he would resign as chief executive of Kushner Cos., his family’s real estate firm, and divest himself of “substantial assets,” including the company’s flagship property at 666 Fifth Ave. Trump is scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss his plans for dealing with myriad conflicts of interest raised by his sprawling international development, hotel, branding and entertainment empire.

Nepotism laws: Since speculation began about Kushner’s possible role in the White House, some ethics experts had questioned whether it would be legal under federal anti-nepotism laws. Norman Eisen, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama, said he thought the law was “murky” and said he advocated a “strict approach, but reasonable people may disagree.”

Gorelick said she was confident Kushner’s appointment would survive any legal challenge and said Trump would seek an advisory opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. “I am not saying there’s no legal argument on the other side,” she added. “I’m just saying we have the better argument and will prevail. I have absolute confidence in our argument.”

Trump made it clear since he was elected that he wanted Kushner to serve in his White House. Since mid-November, Kushner and Gorelick’s team have consulted with the Office of Government Ethics to create a plan that would satisfy the legal requirements needed for him to serve.

Under the arrangement, Kushner will divest his holdings in 666 Fifth Avenue; sell the New York Observer newspaper; divest his interest in his brother’s firm, Thrive Capital; and restructure other investments. He will also divest of all foreign investments, Gorelick said. He will have to recuse himself on matters that could relate to his wife’s businesses and his remaining holdings, Gorelick added.

Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, a veteran real estate developer who was once imprisoned for tax evasion, will take an increased role in the family company.

Eisen said he thought Kushner’s decision to divest from his family business raised the pressure on Trump to follow suit, something the president-elect has been reluctant to do.

“What we are seeing now is, after the initial chaos of the Trump transition, that his nominees are now complying with the requirements of the law,” said Eisen, who also served as Obama’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. “Rex Tillerson has retired from Exxon and now Kushner is doing the same,” he added, referring to Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. “So it’s going to be hard for Trump to ignore 40 years of precedent and not do the same.”