Newt Gingrich said Monday that President-elect Donald Trump could simply pardon members of his administration who may break anti-nepotism laws, adding that Trump’s business ties require “a whole new approach” to addressing potential conflicts of interest in the presidency.
“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich told WAMU’s Diane Rehm on Monday morning. “It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”
Gingrich was referring to a federal anti-nepotism law that could prevent Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, respectively, from serving in his administration. Previously, Gingrich suggested Trump may need a waiver from Congress to have Kushner work in his administration.
On Monday, however, Gingrich said the law was the result of “Lyndon Johnson’s reaction to Bobby Kennedy, and the fact that Johnson hated Kennedy.”
“It was a very narrowly focused bill really in reaction to a particular personality thing,” he said. “I think that we have to look at it in the context of what they were trying to accomplish.”
Although Gingrich acknowledged that Trump’s potential conflicts of interest were “a very real problem,” he argued that the President-elect’s massive wealth was “virtually impossible to isolate” and that “traditional rules don’t work.”
“We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach,” he said.
For his part, Gingrich provided little detail as to what that approach might look like. He suggested a “review group,” led by someone like former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, could “monitor regularly what was going on and would offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.”
“You can’t say that Trump Tower is not the Trump Tower or that Trump Hotel is not the Trump Hotel, and you can’t say that the kids who run it aren’t his children,” Gingrich said. “These are facts and they’re obvious.”
After returning from a commercial break, Rehm asked Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, for his reaction to Gingrich’s comments.
“There is no billionaire exception in the Constitution of the United States,” Painter said, adding later: “The pardon power can not be used by the president to pardon himself, or to cause other members of his administration to engage in illegal conduct or unconstitutional conduct and then simply use the pardon power in that way. If the pardon power allows that, the pardon power allows the president to become a dictator.”