Email #172: “travesty of justice”?

When President Kennedy appointed his brother Attorney General in 1961, the New York Times called it “irresponsible,” Newsweek called it a “travesty of justice,” and The Nation called it “the greatest example of nepotism this land has ever seen.” Six years later Congress passed the Federal Anti-Nepotism Statue—though its Democratic sponsor was more worried about the 50 wives on Congressmen’s payrolls.

The law is clear:

“A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.”

The statute states explicitly that “public official” includes “the President” and “relative” includes “son-in-law.” I am confused then why as chair of the House Judiciary Committee you did not respond to the President’s appointment of Jared Kushner as senior advisor on January 9.

President Bush’s former top ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, said “the statute prohibits the appointment.” This seems self-evident, but Painter also said he would “err on the side of caution,” suggesting there’s some ambiguity. I presume that’s because that statue includes the sentence:

“An individual appointed, employed, promoted, or advanced in violation of this section is not entitled to pay.”

I understand that Kushner is not being paid, but given his $740 million net worth, not taking a paycheck is hardly a punishment.  More importantly, President Trump is still violating the law by appointing him. The President said:

“Jared has been a tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition and I am proud to have him in a key leadership role in my administration… He will be an invaluable member of my team…”

A “member” of the White House “team,” especially a “key leadership role,” is “a civilian position in the agency in which” President Trump “is serving” and “exercises jurisdiction.” Why are you ignoring this violation of federal law? Your inaction violates what you wrote last October:

“We are a nation of laws. That principle was important to our Founders, and it is rightfully at the very core of our government. In fact, as I travel the Sixth Congressional District, folks continually tell me about the importance of following the rule of law as the best way to govern our country. Too often they have seen laws ignored with little or no consequences for those who break them, and want this to change.”

Kushner may have also violated laws far more consequential than anti-nepotism. Multiple news sources reported yesterday that Kushner attempted to establish a secret communication line with the Kremlin to circumnavigate the U.S. government. Kushner and Michael Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Kyslak in Trump Tower in early December and asked for use of the Russian embassy’s communication equipment. Kyslak was apparently startled but relayed the request to the Kremlin, where it was declined.

While the private meeting, which the White House said in March was a brief courtesy meeting, and the request would not be crimes, they significantly widen the appearance of collusion. It also makes Secretary Clinton’s use of an insufficiently secure private email system seem benign in contrast since Kushner and Flynn were attempting to use a system entirely outside U.S. security.

You felt that Secretary Clinton’s negligence deserved criminal prosecution and punishment. What is your opinion of Kushner’s request?

Since you are ignoring the administration’s violation of the federal anti-nepotism law, do you no longer think “following the rule of law” is “the best way to govern our country”?

How many other laws do you feel the administration should be allowed to violate with “no consequences”?

If we are a “nation of laws,” why do you apply that “principle” at “the very core of our government” so inconsistently?

If you can’t exercise oversight of the executive branch regarding something as relatively low stakes as nepotism, how can the nation trust you with the Russian crisis?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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