Trump makes tran­si­tion to power a fam­ily af­fair

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Ten days af­ter his elec­tion, Don­ald Trump’s tran­si­tion to power has ev­ery ap­pear­ance of a fam­ily af­fair, fu­elling con­cerns about con­flicts of in­ter­est and a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in the fu­ture Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s in­ner cir­cle. Of­fi­cial snaps of the pres­i­dent-elect’s first meet­ing with a for­eign leader on Thurs­day trig­gered a tor­rent of crit­i­cism: They show Ivanka Trump sit­ting in on the talks with Ja­pan’s Shinzo Abe, while she and her busi­ness­man hus­band Jared Kush­ner can be seen chat­ting and laugh­ing with the prime min­is­ter’s del­e­ga­tion at Trump Tower.

“Con­flict of in­ter­est is an un­der­state­ment,” tweeted Matt Ortega, a mem­ber of the digital team for Trump’s de­feated Demo­cratic ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton. “OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG,” re­acted the left­wing mag­a­zine Mother Jones. While he in­sists Ivanka, Don­ald Jr and Eric will hold no for­mal posts in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, the bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent-elect has since his Nov 8 elec­tion given Amer­i­cans good rea­son to be­lieve his adult chil­dren will con­tinue to play an im­por­tant role at his side.

And the seem­ingly piv­otal role be­ing played by Kush­ner, Trump’s busi­ness­man sonin-law, in as­sem­bling the Repub­li­can’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is al­ready draw­ing scru­tiny af­ter he was re­ported this week to be pulling strings in the process. It was re­ported - and de­nied by Trump - that in­quiries had been made about topse­cret clear­ance for Kush­ner to be able to join daily pres­i­den­tial brief­ings. And on Thurs­day, The New York Times re­ported - cit­ing anonymous sources - that Kush­ner had reached out to a lawyer about the pos­si­bil­ity of join­ing his fa­ther-in-law’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, with­out vi­o­lat­ing anti-ne­po­tism laws.

For mix­ing fam­ily and politics is not that sim­ple in the United States. A 1967 law - adopted af­ter John F Kennedy, as pres­i­dent-elect, named his brother Bobby as at­tor­ney gen­eral bars any blood rel­a­tive or in-law of the US pres­i­dent from hold­ing paid em­ploy­ment for a fed­eral agency. But the leg­is­la­tion ap­pears to be a lot less clear when it comes to White House ad­vi­sor po­si­tions.

Too Many Risks of Con­flict

Pres­i­den­tial politics as a fam­ily af­fair is noth­ing new in Amer­ica, says Sam Abrams, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege in New York. From Eleanor Roo­sevelt to Michelle Obama, and of course the Kennedys, Bushes and Clin­tons, the wives and chil­dren of US heads of state have of­ten played a key - if in­for­mal - role, with­out rais­ing red flags over ne­po­tism.

But for Daniel DiSalvo, an ex­pert at the City Col­lege of New York-CUNY, Trump throws sev­eral chal­leng­ing new in­gre­di­ents into the mix: “The char­ac­ter of Trump’s busi­ness - his name is one of the main as­sets on his build­ings, golf cour­ses - the scale of his for­tune and the num­ber of adult chil­dren” in­volved in his busi­nesses. “That’s the is­sue: how much of this is go­ing to cre­ate con­flict of in­ter­est is­sues,” said DiSalvo.

While Trump says his chil­dren - who all sit on his tran­si­tion team - will play no of­fi­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion role, he does plan to have them con­tinue to run his busi­nesses, which ethics watch­dogs warn would pose too many po­ten­tial risks of con­flict. Ivanka Trump’s very first tele­vised ap­pear­ance at the pres­i­dent-elect’s side - in a prime-time in­ter­view - trig­gered a minis­can­dal af­ter her fash­ion com­pany sent out a mes­sage pro­mot­ing the $10,000 gold bracelet she wore on air.

Abrams be­lieves Trump is com­mit­ting a mis­take by al­low­ing his fam­ily to fig­ure so promi­nently - be­fore he has even taken of­fice, and be­fore he has fin­ished build­ing a qual­i­fied team to sur­round him. “It’s nor­mal to in­volve fam­ily,” Abrams said. But he also be­lieves that to rely that heav­ily on im­me­di­ate fam­ily is “off­putting for a lot of peo­ple.” Ex­perts ex­pressed sur­prise that Trump did not re­quest a State Depart­ment brief­ing be­fore his meet­ing with the leader of one of Wash­ing­ton’s clos­est al­lies but had Ivanka and Kush­ner in the room.

Seek­ing coun­sel might have ap­peared all the more per­ti­nent since Trump had alarmed Tokyo pol­i­cy­mak­ers dur­ing his cam­paign by mus­ing about pulling the thou­sands of US troops from the re­gion and sug­gest­ing that of­fi­cially paci­fist Ja­pan may need nu­clear weapons. “When you are go­ing to be meet­ing with Shinzo Abe, a trusted ally of the US, you should be talk­ing to your ex­perts... and not in­stead go­ing to Jared to say, ‘What do you think about this?’” Abrams said. In the tense cli­mate fol­low­ing Trump’s elec­tion, on the back of a di­vi­sive pop­ulist cam­paign, he said, “it’s not help­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple to feel bet­ter about them­selves”. —AFP

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