Report: Kellyanne Conway's husband picked for Justice Dept. post
March 18, 2017 10:33 PM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
President Trump has selected George T. Conway III, right, the husband of Kellyanne Conway, to head the civil division of the Justice Department.
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis / The New York Times
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump has selected George T. Conway III, the husband of his counselor Kellyanne Conway, to head the civil division of the Justice Department, people familiar with the decision said on Saturday, placing him in charge of a crucial office charged with defending Mr. Trump’s contentious travel ban and lawsuits alleging that his business activities violate the Constitution.
Mr. Conway, 53, would lead a department of about 1,000 lawyers that has vast reach across the government, handling issues like national security and consumer protection and enforcing federal programs and the actions of the president himself.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on a personnel matter, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests. The people familiar with Mr. Trump’s decision confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt an impending announcement. The choice was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
If confirmed, Mr. Conway would immediately be in charge of representing Mr. Trump in the legal challenges — which are widely expected to reach the Supreme Court — over his executive order barring people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The White House narrowed the directive after its original version was blocked last month by judges who said it did not advance national security interests and violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, people holding visas and refugees.
But last week, two other federal judges — one in Hawaii and one in Maryland — moved to block the revised order, suggesting that it probably constituted religious discrimination and was in essence a backdoor Muslim ban of the sort that Mr. Trump promised during his presidential campaign.
It would also fall to Mr. Conway to oversee Mr. Trump’s defense in a pending lawsuit charging him with violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans federal officeholders from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments because of the profits his hotels and resorts receive from foreign officials who are customers.
Before he was inaugurated, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-market-value transactions,” like paying for hotel rooms. But the lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group on government corruption, contends that the clause does bar such transactions.
It is likely that Mr. Trump will face additional legal challenges regarding possible conflicts of interest stemming from his vast real estate and business empire, from which he has refused to divest.
Installing Mr. Conway to lead the civil division means that defending the president from such challenges will become a family affair for the Conways. Ms. Conway, a staunch loyalist who ran the final months of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has been a frequent presence on television news programs promoting the president’s agenda and dismissing criticism of his style and record.
Her zeal on Mr. Trump’s behalf has sometimes landed her at the center of controversy, such as when she claimed that the White House was entitled to put forward “alternative facts” about the crowd size at his inauguration, and in a separate interview a few weeks later, referred to a terrorist attack in Bowling Green that never occurred. Last week, she appeared to suggest that President Barack Obama might have spied on Mr. Trump through a microwave. Ms. Conway later clarified that she was speaking in general about possible means of surveillance, not about Mr. Obama, and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said she had been joking.
Mr. Conway had been a contender for the job of solicitor general for the Trump administration, but Mr. Trump announced this month that the job would go to Noel J. Francisco.
Mr. Conway is a partner at the New York City firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. He specializes in securities, contract and antitrust litigation, as well as mergers and acquisitions, according to his biography on the firm’s website. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Yale Law School.
While there is a law against nepotism in government, it would not affect the Conways. It says that no public official can hire a family member — including one related by marriage — to serve in an agency or office over which he or she has authority. Ms. Conway would have no direct authority over her husband were he to be confirmed, nor would the reverse be true.