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Trump campaign nixes Kushner title amid legal questions

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — One minute, President Trump’s 2020 campaign referred to Jared Kushner as “Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, and President Trump’s son-in-law.” The next, Kushner became simply “President Trump’s son-in-law.”

Blame the 1939 Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, better known as the Hatch Act. The law imposes limits on what government officials can and cannot do in terms of partisan campaign activities.

The Trump reelection organization appears to have fallen afoul of one of the measure’s provisions with an early Tuesday statement announcing that digital strategist Brad Parscale would run the 2020 operation.

The statement included praise for Parscale from “Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, and President Trump’s son-in-law.”

“Brad was essential in bringing a disciplined technology and data-driven approach to how the 2016 campaign was run. His leadership and expertise will be help [sic] build a best-in-class campaign,” Kushner said in the announcement.

As an assistant to the president, Kushner can take part in limited campaign activities while on duty. But the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that oversees enforcement of the Hatch Act says the law prohibits “referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time.”

After the original announcement went up, the campaign updated the statement. The new version reads: “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, said, ‘Brad was essential in bringing a disciplined technology and data-driven approach to how the 2016 campaign was run. His leadership and expertise will be help build a best-in-class campaign.”

(The update repeated the earlier apparent typo. But typos are legal.)

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at President Trump’s State of the Union address. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Under President Barack Obama, White House aides received yearly briefings from the Office of White House Counsel about legal restrictions on political activities, among other limits that come with a job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“You do have to go. There’s a sign-in sheet at each briefing. You sign at the end so that you can’t just sign it and leave. No one else can sign for you,” one White House aide explained to Yahoo News last year.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her daily briefing that senior Trump aides had gone through a similar process.

Asked whether White House officials had received a briefing on the rules, including the prohibition on using formal titles in campaign materials, Sanders replied: “I know that both Cabinet and senior staff have been briefed on upcoming midterm elections and what they are allowed to do.”

Under Obama, there were two notable instances of senior aides facing charges of improper politicking. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis drew accusations that she engaged in improper fundraising by soliciting subordinates for donations to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The OSC closed its probe when she stepped down to run for office in California, but it had referred the matter to the Department of Justice for possible criminal investigation. And the OSC found that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had violated the Hatch Act in 2012 by endorsing a Democratic candidate in North Carolina and urging Obama’s reelection at a gala where she appeared in her official capacity.

Under the current president, Ben Carson was briefly in trouble after he was introduced at an August 2017 Trump campaign rally as “the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson.” The OSC determined that the renowned surgeon had not done anything to imply that he was speaking in his official capacity.

Kushner’s status at the White House also made news on Tuesday, when several news outlets reported that his security clearance had been downgraded, paring back his access to some of the nation’s closest-held secrets. All Trump aides holding interim clearances at the most sensitive level learned in a memo issued Friday that they would be dropped to a lower level. Kushner has played a central role in the administration’s Middle East peace push and relations with China, and he previously had access to the President’s Daily Brief, one of the most sensitive intelligence documents produced for Trump. Politico first reported the change.

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