Familial Ties and Political Triage: The Russian Meeting Highlights The True Cost Of Nepotism

donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedEric Trump once dismissed objections to his father’s use of nepotism by saying that “nepotism is kind of a fact of life.”  That is true. It is also a part of presidential history, but it is not a good part.  I have long been a critic of nepotism in government.  What is interesting is how costly the practice can be.  The current controversy involving Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner are illustrative of those costs.  Absent the family connection, neither Trump Jr. nor Kushner would likely have been able to avoid a separation from the White House (as was the case with Manafort and Flynn).  Instead, Trump has had to double down and his defenders belittle the fact that Donald Jr. not only took the bait of this meeting but said that he would “love” to get information directly from the Russian government to help in the election.  As I stated this weekend on NPR, while the collusion was not successful, there was clearly as willingness, if not an eagerness, to collude with the Russians in their seeking to influence the presidential election.

Below is my column in USA Today on the subject:

The perils of nepotism have been captured in President Trump’sresponses to his son and son-in-law eagerly attending a meeting that they believed was a Russian government lawyer bringing dirt on Hillary Clinton directly from the Russian government. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and short-lived campaign manager Paul Manafort were shown the door over far less scandal — yet Trump declared of his relatives that “I think many people would have held that meeting.”

He called Donald Trump Jr. a “high quality person” who did nothing wrong, or even unwise. He added in his Paris press conference, “Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard.” Now NBC News reports that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer was also in the meeting. Does the president have any choice but to continue to defend his relatives?

With his comments to date, Trump has assumed the costs directly for their actions. And that is the real cost of nepotism. It reduces the range of motion in dealing with scandals. There is no option for political triage when family is on the line.

Jared Kushner came into the government as a senior adviser and “secretary of everything” through an act of nepotism. With his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, he was given a high-ranking position based first and foremost on his familial relationship with the president. Federal bans on nepotism do not extend to the White House staff. Accordingly, Kushner’s appointment is perfectly legal. It is not, however, ethical or beneficial for the administration.

The term nepotism comes from the Latin root for nephew. Its origins are traced to the Middle Ages practice of Catholic popes giving high-ranking religious positions to their nephews. Nepotism became not the exception but the rule in religious appointments. It was eventually denounced as unethical and unwise. Nepotism elevates loyalty over capability. The “nephews” not only tended to do poor jobs, their scandals had a greater impact on their sponsors.

Trump does not stand out in his embrace of nepotism in the White House. John Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and others appointed relatives to high positions. Their failures often heightened the vulnerability of these presidents. Consider Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s administration reportedly employed dozens of his relatives. He then used his pardon power to benefit family members. One brother-in-law, James F. Casey, stole property from the New Orleans Customs Office but was still reappointed by Grant as collector of customs. Another brother-in-law, Abel R. Corbin, was accused of involvement in a bribery scheme. Yet another brother-in-law, Frederick Dent, made money by selling insider information as an usher. Grant’s reliance on ethically challenged relatives resulted in a scandal-plagued administration that forever tarnished his legacy. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner described Grant’s administration as exhibiting “a dropsical nepotism swollen to elephantiasis.”

By Grant’s standard, Kushner’s appointment and performance in office are stellar. However, everything in nepotism is … well … relative. Kushner’s effort to use Russian diplomatic resources to create a “back channel” for communications with Moscow was as stunning as it was stupid. His meeting with with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, was equally radioactive. The bank was the subject of U.S. sanctions and Gorkov’s resume includes a degree from the Academy of the Federal Security Service, the Russian spy school.

His failure to recall the meeting with the Russian lawyer is legitimately suspect, particularly when he was copied on emails that promised damaging information directly from the Russian government to help Trump win the election.

The Russian scandal shows that the real danger is not any imminent threat of criminal charges, but the familiar grind of nepotism on an administration. When Trump Jr. got into trouble as part of his position in the Trump campaign, Trump had to give his absolute support to his “high-quality” son. At best, his son had fallen for a bait-and-switch that made his team look like colossal chumps. However, you cannot distance yourself from your own blood.

Similarly, Kushner is not some aide, like Flynn, who can be simply sent home after a short but dismal performance in office. That would make Thanksgiving dinner a tad awkward. So the president must keep him — and his failures — close.

Trump only had to look to his campaign nemesis to understand the perils of nepotism. Bill Clinton (over the advice of many) appointed his wife to head his Health Care Task Force. A federal appeals court in Association of American Physicians and Surgeons v. Clinton found that Hillary Clinton was a “de facto” officer of the White House and suggested that, if nepotism laws applied to the White House, her position would be a violation.

However, the biggest problem was that Bill Clinton gave opponents a major advantage. The failure of the first lady would be his failure — adding to the incentive to run the project into the ground. On top of that strategic blunder, Hillary Clinton by 1994 had become highly unpopular among Republicans. Had  the president selected a neutral leader to bridge the parties, he might have had a chance to secure real reforms.

While there is no compelling basis for prosecution on the current facts, Kushner could well be in legal jeopardy over the course of the unfolding federal and congressional investigations. Nepotism can have an impact on the legal defense strategy for the White House. Counsel cannot control or confine the damage if they cannot separate the president from a targeted official. You cannot cut off a target who is bound to the president by blood or marriage. That means the administration has limited options and has to double down when called out on the relationship — as the president did in Paris. That is the cost of nepotism, and those costs are only likely to grow with time.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

161 thoughts on “Familial Ties and Political Triage: The Russian Meeting Highlights The True Cost Of Nepotism

  1. ZZZZZZzzzzz ZZZZZZzzz . . . . ZZZZZZzzzzzz ……. ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz.

    (And this article was written by someone who voted for Hillary Clinton, who only got where she did because of nepotism. Normally this means the article’s author is a total hypoctrite, but as the media and corporate institutions have made clear, Leftists can never be hypocritical. Only those who attack Leftists can be hypocrites.)

    Anyway, back to…….. ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzz . . . . . ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzz . . . . . . . . ZZZZZZZZzzzzzz.

    • The odds that Turley voted for a Democrat for President are highly unlikely, IMO. The right wing myth-makers tell their ditto heads that universities are where the left lives. But, break new ground for the uninformed Hannity listeners and check out Turley posts before you draw conclusions.

  2. “Kushner suggested to the Russian ambassador that he be allowed to use Russian diplomatic facilities to communicate securely with Moscow.” Washington Post

    • This news was first reported in May; I can’t bring up the current WaPo article, so I can’t tell if they’re recycling an older news story, or if there’s been a new development in the story.

      • It’s the Kushner incident that the right-wing Turley commenters want to sweep under the rug. I want to remind them how different Trump’s family is than other politicians.
        But there’s some Trump history summarized by Craig Unger in the New Republic this week (July 13, 2017), “How to propel a failed real estate developer into the White House- Trump’s Russian Laundromat.”

        • Since WaPo reported the same story in May, I was wondering if there were any updates.
          I’ll read them side by side when they are archived….WaPo wants me to subscribe to read the current one, so all I get is the headline, then a bunch of their ads pop up.

    • Where is your proof? Who is the source? Unamed? Like the Fusion GPS Steele report? Others sources say that isn’t true. Why do you choose to believe undocumented sources when so many sources of the Washington Post have been proven to be false?

      • Is Kushner denying the story published by the newspaper that has the largest circulation in the nation’s capitol, a reputation to maintain (unlike Fox) and deep pockets for a lawsuit?

        • Linda, If you observe how twisted some of the Washington post’s reporting is you wouldn’t be asking such a question. Reputations last far longer than you might consider. The Kushner story as Van Jone’s said is a nothing burger. The real story is in the people around the lawyer, Fusion GPS and mostly Democrats that have been involved with these phony stories such as the Steele story. WE should be looking at who permitted the lawyer into the country and why.

          You only seem interested in protecting the nation up to the point where Trump might be dirtied, but where the real threats to the nation come from such as documented Ukranian involvement in our elections and supposed Russian theft of DNC documents you demonstrate little concern.

          I like Americans that place the nation’s welfare ahead of party and you don’t seem to be doing that.

            • Take note how you cannot reply with substance and have to reply with insult. That alone is evidence of a lack of intellect. I don’t accuse you of that lack, so perhaps you could restrain yourself from using insults and start using fact.

              Do you know who Van Jone’s is? He made the statement and he is a leftist.
              Have you not heard of Fusion GPS? It’s been in the news, but not as frequently as the articles you seem to read that are “nothing burgers” to quote Van Jones.
              What mention have you made regarding the DNC that were stolen presumably by the Russians according to the DNC?
              Don’t you realize that reputations develop after the fact and generally last longer than deserved?

              The above items are factual or agreed to by most intelligent people. Start again LInda, skip the insults and respond to the substance. I’m sure you can do better than the schoolyard kid who insults someone’s mother.

              I hope you respond to this intelligently and like an adult so we can skip the schoolyard banter.

  3. Back in the Joe McCarthy Era you were called “a Communist” if you spoke with some Russian. Nowadays no one is called a Communist. Why not? Is Putin not a Communist? Hillary? What about the Yorkie on the Dem side of the aisle with first name Bernie?
    There was a song on the radio last night lamenting this new era we live in.

    (music to tune of Where did all the ____ go?)

    Where did all the Commies go?
    Loong time passing.
    Where did all the Commies go?
    Long, long time ago.

    When will we ever know?
    When will we ever know?

    I would like to see Putin…
    Fall on his sword.
    I would like to see Putin..
    Fall on his sword.

    He is not a Commie now.
    He’s a Democrat!
    When will we ever know?
    When will we ever know?

  4. “Familial Ties and Political Triage: The Russian Meeting Highlights The True Cost Of Nepotism”

    Hillary Clinton met with Russians and gave Putin America’s uranium.

    If meetings are illegal, please cite that law.

    If there is a law against President Trump involving, deploying

    or otherwise employing his children,please cite that law.

    Why hasn’t the FBI arrested the whole Trump family if all they do is break laws?

    Is the FBI waiting to arrest the entire Trump family and every American

    who has ever uttered the word “Trump” until some delicately fabricated

    false charges are created out of whole cloth by the ruling class?

  5. Until there is equal (non-partisan) outrage over all forms of collusion and corruption, then the investigation will be seen as nothing more than a partisan witch hunt. How many here are honest enough to go after all of it, not just one political party?

  6. You say: ” while the collusion was not successful”–how do you know? We still don’t have the names of all of the persons present, and those who have spoken have been proved to have lied. They only disclosed the meeting after MSM broke the story, and even then, they weren’t totally honest. There’s every reason not to believe Donnie, Jr. when he says nothing came of the meeting. There is clear circumstantial evidence that it did succeed. Shortly after this meeting is when Mrs. Clinton’s emails starting being disclosed. Is that a mere coincidence? Stay tuned.

  7. Turley- more deflection?
    The “grind’ is not more important than the “imminent threat”. The “grind” harms the Republican Party brand. The Trump Sr./Russian connection extends the battle front in the fight for democracy by the American people. The American oligarchy is an enemy along with the Russian mob and Putin.

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