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Ivanka Trump’s Growing West Wing Role Raises Questions

WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump’s growing role in her father’s administration directly conflicts with his past statements and renews questions about nepotism in the White House.

The first daughter is officially moving into a West Wing office and obtaining a security clearance, a White House official told CNN Monday. She will also receive government-provided communications devices, although she will not draw a salary or technically be a government employee, per the official.

The news confirms what had been expected soon after Trump’s election, given how closely Ivanka Trump advised her father during his campaign. But for months, officials denied she would work directly from the West Wing, and her father, President Donald Trump, also claimed during the transition that he would not seek a security clearance for her.

“I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children. This was a typically false news story,” tweeted in November.

But Trump changed his mind, according to what press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday.

“Ivanka has decided to go above and beyond and act in certain ways to ensure that she complies with certain rules by maintaining the federal records act, getting a security clearance so that if she is privy to any information that is classified, she has to abide by the same rules and regulations in terms of being in a room,” he said.

Ivanka Trump took a formal leave of absence from her eponymous apparel and accessories brand, as well as the Trump Organization, in January. While she will not have a formal title or role, Ivanka Trump has long been a key trusted adviser to her father, through her young adulthood to her time as executive vice president of real estate development and acquisition at the Trump Organization, and, ultimately, to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump will continue in that capacity, serving as the President’s “eyes and ears,” per her attorney, Jamie Gorelick.

“She will not be his only source of input and insight, obviously, but she may be able to provide insights into the concerns of people whom he might not meet as President,” Gorelick told CNN via email.

In the first several weeks of the administration, she’s already been on hand for key happenings, including roundtable discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Florida school visit with her father and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an Oval Office bill signing encouraging women in STEM, a visit to the National African American Museum of History and Culture and West Wing meetings on human trafficking and manufacturing, among others.

However, she has not yet spoken publicly at all — at events or in media interviews — since her father assumed office.

Nepotism?

Ivanka Trump’s elevation has prompted critics to note the potential violation of the nepotism law, passed in 1967, that says no public official — from the President down to a low-level manager at a federal agency — may hire or promote a relative.

But the law states that any appointee found to have violated the law is “not entitled to pay” by the federal government, which appears to offer the opportunity for Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is already serving in Trump’s West Wing, to forgo paychecks while still serving the administration.

When Kushner officially joined Trump’s team in January, the Justice Department concluded that his post as senior adviser was not in violation of federal anti-nepotism laws.

“In choosing his personal staff, the President enjoys an unusual degree of freedom, which Congress found suitable to the demands of his office,” wrote Daniel Koffsky, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel, which serves as interpreter of federal law for the White House.

Koffsky reasoned in January that the anti-nepotism law covers only appointments in an “executive” agency and that the White House Office is not an executive agency within the law. He cited a separate law that gives the President broad powers to hire his staff.

That law authorizes the President to appoint “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.”

Spicer said Ivanka Trump will follow the ethical standards applicable to all federal employees.

“Even though she’s not a federal employee, she’ll follow the restrictions that would apply if she were. She’s taken these steps with the advice of counsel and in consultation of the Office of Government Ethics,” he said.

But critics argue that even if Trump is legally in compliance with anti-nepotism laws, it’s not enough.

“What’s she doing exactly? Nobody knows. What qualifies her? Apparently, being the President’s daughter. There’s a word for this: nepotism. And it makes everything Ivanka has done up to this point to position herself as an example for working women into a farce,” wrote Amanda Carpenter, a conservative commentator and CNN contributor, Tuesday on Cosmopolitan.com.

Unprecedented

The broadening of Trump’s role in her father’s administration is unprecedented by any modern member of a first family.

Hillary Clinton had a West Wing office during her husband’s administration, a move she came to regret, per Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies” and a CNN contributor.

“Hillary confided in Laura Bush when she was showing her around the second floor after the election and told her she wished she hadn’t had an office in the West Wing. She realized that the public wasn’t ready for a first lady to be so active in policy. And she blamed herself in part for the Democrats’ disastrous 1994 midterm election loss,” Brower said.

In a 2007 interview, Clinton told The New York Times that she did not have a security clearance and did not attend National Security Council meetings.

President George W. Bush, who worked on his father’s campaign, is the most recent parallel to Ivanka Trump, Brower said.

“But even he wasn’t sitting in on high-level policy meetings when his father was in the White House. It definitely complicates matters when someone who can’t be fired — aka a family member — is this involved in an administration,” she said.