President Donald Trump is searching for a signature achievement to define his presidency, and he has determined that infusing business practices into the running of the government could be the way to do it. So, the real estate mogul is set to announce the creation of a new government agency called the White House Office of American Innovation Monday, and he's not getting just anyone to lead the project. In fact, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law will reportedly be in charge, once again stirring up uneasy rumblings about possible nepotism among Trump critics. But whether and how much Jared Kushner will be paid in his new White House role could factor into an evaluation of the ethics of his accepting the new gig, at least in theory.
According to The Washington Post, which first reported on the new agency and Kushner's ascension to its top, the White House Office of American Innovation will initially take on issues like overhauling Veteran's Affairs, improving workforce development, and confronting the nationwide opioid addiction crisis. Tech world leaders like Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Microsoft founder Bill Gates will be central to the effort. But at its core will be Kushner, the 36-year-old husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka who famously ousted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from the Trump transition team shortly after the election.
The episode with Christie threw Kushner's influence within his father-in-law's circle into stark relief for the general public, but that doesn't mean many weren't outraged when he assumed the role of senior adviser. Trump was facing (and continues to face) serious conflict of interest questions associated with running the country and maintaining his internationally renowned brand at the same time, and the installation of his son-in-law to such a prestigious West Wing position did not help to assuage disquiet over where the president's loyalties lie. At the time, though, Kushner skirted the legal aspect of those concerns by reportedly declining compensation for his services, Reuters reported.
It's the same route that Ivanka took in March when she accepted a "voluntary," undefined position in the White House that afforded her an office near her father's. In an article examining the issue, Business Insider's Sonam Sheth called it a "gray area," pointing to precedent established during President Bill Clinton's administration. In the early 1990s, he had appointed his wife and the woman who would go on to face off against Trump for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, as the head of a health care task force. In the wake of the resulting lawsuit, two federal judges ultimately ruled that "the federal antinepotism statute did not apply to the White House in the same way it did to other federal or executive agencies," nor is it applicable to unpaid positions, Sheth wrote.
Romper did reach out to the White House to ask whether Kushner will run the Office of American Innovation without pay, as well as whether Trump did opt not to pay his daughter and son-in-law specifically to avoid accusations of nepotism. A response has not yet been provided.
In the meantime, though, the president and his family appear determined to rule as they please. Whether they will be able to go on this way is unclear, but no legal scholars or lawyers have been able to present a strong enough case for Trump to have to cool it with heaping more and more power onto his family members. What's undeniable is that all eyes will be on them, relentlessly, for the duration of Trump's tenure.