Legal memos overruled by Trump showed earlier administrations couldn't appoint family

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner smiles as he arrives for his appearance before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2017.


The Justice Department told prior presidents that they could not appoint their family members to presidential commissions, White House positions and unpaid posts, according to documents obtained by Politico.

The legal memos were issued to the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon by the Justice Department, the report said.

Justice Department lawyers believed that appointing relatives to certain senior-level administration positions violated an anti-nepotism law passed in 1967, the report said. That nepotism law was a response to President Kennedy's appointing of his brother, Robert Kennedy, as his attorney general in 1960. 

These revelations came after a Justice Department official overruled the memos in January, which then gave President Trump the green light to make his son-in-law Jared Kushner a senior adviser and his daughter Ivanka Trump an adviser as well.

In 1977, an acting assistant attorney general wrote in a memo that President Carter couldn't appoint his wife, Rosalynn Carter, to serve as chairman of a Commission on Mental Health. Another career attorney, however, said that an honorary position would be acceptable and she was named to such a post afterward.

The documents, which were released Monday through Politico's Freedom of Information Act request, revealed that a legal opinion DOJ issued in 2009 said that President Obama couldn't appoint his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng to a commission on White House fellowships. 

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.