The government watchdog group Democracy 21 on Tuesday asked White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to recuse himself from a wide array of policy areas due to Kushner’s decision to retain ownership of hundreds of his businesses.
Trump has given his son-in-law responsibility for a long list of issues, among them the Middle East, opioid addiction, veterans affairs and a newly formed Office of American Innovation staffed by former business executives and tasked with solving deeply entrenched government problems.
Kushner also serves as a shadow diplomat, advising on relations with China, Mexico and other nations.
Like Trump, however, Kushner entered the White House owning hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and other assets, an arrangement that Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said could allow him to affect policies to enrich him or his family.
“He has an unprecedented role assigned to him in the White House,” Wertheimer said. “He is the president’s son-in-law, and he has a vast and complex set of business interests that have been valued at as much as $740 million.”
Democracy 21 is a nonprofit organization focused on government corruption and campaign reform. In the five-page letter delivered Tuesday the group calls on Kushner “to publicly announce now that you are recusing yourself from any involvement in a number of policy areas in order to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of such conflicts.”
Those areas ought to include China as well as matters “including real estate, taxes, trade, banking and financial services, and certain foreign policy areas,” the group argued.
Washington attorney Jamie Gorelick, who represents Kushner and his wife, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, issued a statement saying he would review the letter.
“Mr. Kushner has consistently said that he would follow government ethics requirements, including by recusing from particular matters consistent with the conflict-of-interest and impartiality rules” Gorelick said.
Two White House spokesmen did not immediately comment.
In the financial disclosure form he filed with the government, Kushner reported owning a stake in nearly 300 different assets or companies collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which he still owns.
He also listed more than 200 positions or titles he held while in the private sector and reported having resigned from all of them, including posts at his family’s real estate firm and the New York Observer newspaper, mostly in January of this year.
The president is exempt from some ethics rules that other officials are not, and Wertheimer said those rules require that Kushner recuse himself from issues with China in particular because of his wife Ivanka’s trademark applications there.
Wertheimer argued that Kushner ought to additionally recuse himself from other policy matters such as taxes or financial services from which he could personally benefit.
In addition to the hundreds of assets Kushner reported, he also listed borrowing tens of millions of dollars from nine banks, often in partnership with his father, New Jersey developer Charles Kushner.
Those banks are regulated by policies Kushner may now have a hand in shaping.
“We think he’s got to take steps beyond the statutory requirements to ensure the American people that he is not engaging in conflicts of interest, or creating the appearance of conflicts, and that he is not using his office for personal financial gain,” Wertheimer said.
Democracy 21 is also one of three groups that asked the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate whether President Trump has received payments or benefits from foreign governments that could violate the Constitution’s “emoluments clause.”
The clause bars officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.
Staff reporter Tom Hamburger contributed to this article.