President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t plan to nominate or appoint any of his children to a formal role in his administration.
Yet, his plan for three of them to run his sprawling business empire while he is in the White House is still drawing fire from ethics watchdogs who say it would pose too many potential conflicts of interest.
Mr. Trump’s umbrella company, Trump Organization, has begun taking steps to transfer management to Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump and “a team of highly skilled executives,” according to a company spokesman. Last week, he appointed all three to the executive committee of his transition team, which is charged with choosing the administration officials who will run government agencies, some of whose decisions could affect the company.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said Thursday that none of his children are planning to formally join their father’s administration, but didn’t respond to questions about whether any might play an informal role. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is expected to serve in some capacity in the White House, compounding concerns about his wife, Ivanka, taking control of the family’s business. Mr. Kushner also may choose to play an informal advisory role without taking a formal White House staff position.
Those potential overlaps have drawn criticism from ethics experts in both parties. “We were told they were going to separate the business from the presidency,” said Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for Republican President George W. Bush. “Within the first week, they’ve contradicted that.”
Mr. Trump has said he would put his holdings into a blind trust with his children as its trustees—making it effectively not blind, since federal law requires blind trusts to be managed by independent outsiders, not family members. What’s more, a blind trust would be difficult in Mr. Trump’s case because his assets are known: His buildings bear his name, and he profits from or takes losses from business deals he personally negotiated.
During the campaign, the Trump children served as top surrogates and informal advisers to their father, helping oust two of his leadership teams over the course of the election. Mr. Kushner also was key adviser to Mr. Trump, campaign aides said.
Robert Kelner, chairman of Covington and Burling’s election and political law practice group, said most federal officials, if they were to serve in the White House—must “recuse themselves from particular matters that would impact their own or a family member’s financial interests,” which would include Mr. Trump’s businesses if Ms. Trump is running them. Mr. Kelner said that practice isn’t uncommon.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton allowed Hillary Clinton to effectively serve as a policy adviser, including giving her an office in the West Wing, where she spearheaded the administration’s health-care policy. That setup drew criticism from Congress, which perceived it as “overreaching” by the president, Mr. Painter said.