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Kushner could have to cut ties with his family's real estate business

Company could pose a series of conflicts -- particularly on economic and immigration policy

Washington CNN  — 

Jared Kushner’s web of business interests is much smaller than Donald Trump’s – but could be more difficult to untangle.

The President-elect’s son-in-law – the husband of Ivanka Trump and, like Donald Trump, the head of a family-owned real estate company – appears set to play a role in the new White House.

Presidents, though, aren’t subject to conflict-of-interest rules. Their aides and advisers are.

That means Kushner could have to cut ties with his family’s Kushner Companies real estate business to even take an unpaid advisory role in the White House. He’d also have to find a way around a 1967 anti-nepotism statute that bars even presidents from hiring family members. And he’d have to work around a law that bars federal employees from accepting voluntary services that aren’t authorized by law.

What seems clear is that Kushner can’t simply turn the management of his assets over to someone else while he works in the Trump administration.

“The whole point of a ‘blind trust’ is that you’re not aware, you’re not cognizant, of what stocks and bonds you have. If somebody else is running your company but you know it’s your company, then what kind of a blind trust is that?” said David Rivkin, a constitutional lawyer who worked in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Trump’s transition team didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.

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Kushner graduated from Harvard University in 2003 and began his rise before graduating with a law degree from New York University in 2007.

He became the CEO of Kushner Companies that year. The real estate company boasts of $14 billion in transactions and $7 billion in acquisitions since Kushner took over after his father, Charles Kushner, was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign contributions.

If Kushner takes a government job or advisory role, his family’s real estate company could pose a series of conflicts – particularly on economic and immigration policy.

In addition to outstanding loans, Kushner Companies developed a Trump-branded project in New Jersey that attracted tens of millions of dollars in Chinese investment by marketing a controversial government program that speeds access to two-year visas for those who invest more than $500,000 in projects that will create jobs.

Kushner Companies this year also launched an investment fund that plans to loan $1 billion to developers over the next five years to support other real estate projects – with the first of the “Kushner Credit Opportunity Fund” loans announced in recent weeks.

Separately, Kushner and his brother, Joshua, co-founded Cadre, a real estate investment company.

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In addition to his real estate holdings, Kushner purchased the New York Observer for $10 million as a 25-year-old in 2006. The newspaper isn’t a major portion of Kushner’s wealth – but it did put him in control of a major platform during his father-in-law’s presidential campaign.

Aside from real estate deals that have been announced publicly, though, little is known about Kushner’s personal wealth.

Kushner, who has never run for office or worked in government, has not publicly revealed his tax returns or offered an account of his assets and debts.

He’s one of several wealthy people poised to enter Trump’s administration who would likely have to put their wealth into blind trusts during their time in government.

Kushner could attempt to avoid those conflict-of-interest concerns by taking on an informal role.

“Everything depends on how he enters the administration. If he does not have a formal government job but he is an informal adviser as a family member, I don’t think there’s going to be any ethics consequences,” said Rivkin, noting that presidents are free to seek advice from anyone they choose.

Other ethics experts said Kushner might be able to dodge conflict-of-interest laws by becoming a government contractor, rather than a Trump staffer.

The bigger problem for Kushner could be the anti-nepotism law, said Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s top White House ethics lawyer and is now a professor at the University of Minnesota.

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Painter recalled telling Bush staffers he couldn’t allow them to line up internships for their children because White House lawyers had once cited the 1967 law – crafted after President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Robert Kennedy attorney general – in blocking then-President Jimmy Carter from bringing his own son to the White House as an unpaid intern.

There is precedent for working around anti-nepotism laws stemming from a court challenge to Hillary Clinton’s role leading a health care task force under President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s.

Clinton, though, was then the first lady, already living in the White House with paid government staffers and a role the American public regarded as part of the presidency, Painter said.

He said there could be a “don’t ask, don’t tell”-type arrangement with Kushner. He wouldn’t necessarily have an office in the West Wing, for instance, even if he spend much of his time at the White House.

“I don’t think you could stop him. He’s family. It’s the President’s home,” Painter said. “The whole thing’s a little on the odd side.”