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As Congress prepares for a packed week of confirmation hearings, Judy Woodruff speaks with Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor to President-elect Trump, about concerns that his nominees are being pushed through without the completion of proper paperwork. They discuss the president-elect’s plans for releasing his tax returns and the choice of his son-in-law Jared Kushner for a top White House role.
A short time ago, before the Jared Kushner announcement, I spoke with senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway about the concerns surrounding some of these Cabinet picks going before the Senate this week.
I started by asking why the confirmation hearings should go forward before the Office of Government Ethics has fully vetted the nominees.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, Senior Adviser to President-elect Trump: Judy, as I understand it, some of the materials just aren't — have not been complete in the process.
And so there is no reason to delay hearings that we expect will cover the substance of the duties that each of those men and women would have in those respective departments and agencies.
In addition, it's my understanding that some of the designees have been requested to turn over tax information that has not been part of the regular course of action in the past. So I'm not sure where that stands, but we really need a fully functioning government next week as we have the transition of power from President Obama to President Trump.
And that necessitates having, if we can, secretary of treasury and state and defense and commerce and other agencies and departments in place. I'm sure that the senators can ask these appointees and designees under oath for information about the materials that haven't yet been completed. But I assure you all of our appointees and designees have been complying with all of the requests and the ethical obligations that have been requested of them.
Well, you mentioned tax returns. Not all of them are required to do that, but by practice they are expected to.
Does the president-elect think they should comply with these rules, when he himself has not provided his own tax returns?
Well, the president-elect and his senior team believes that anything that is required by law should be handed over.
And he knows that these men and women who, in some cases, are making enormous sacrifices to move to Washington, D.C., divest themselves out of their significant holdings and successful companies to do so, are now complying with the ethics rules.
And, again, anybody can ask a question they want to ask, Judy. I just hope that the questions in the Senate confirmation hearings are not this big game of gotcha and hide the ball that we sometimes see, and this level of obstructionism that has been promised by some of the Democrats in the Senate.
That would be unfortunate because we need the government to continue to function effectively. I'm sure that your viewers know President Obama had seven Cabinet appointees confirmed on Inauguration Day.
We would like the same courtesy and the same practice.
But I just would interrupt to say that a number of the individuals that the president-elect has nominated have very complicated business, financial backgrounds. It's taking time. Doesn't the public expect there to be a full vetting before they take office?
Yes, the public probably does expect that.
And, of course, the process necessitates information and disclosure, and under oath, these men and women will be asking questions from these Senate committees who are overseeing the hearings.
I think that's incredibly important also, because people should realize that, in past confirmation hearings, sometimes, people are just asked to talk about how they will deploy different functions, what decisions they made in the past in hiring and firing, and certainly in their business practices.
And sometimes they're asked about personal financial information. But let's just hope that it advances the ball forward for America in these questions that they're asking and have something to do with the proper functioning of the government.
Let me ask you about several other things. You mentioned — we were talking about the tax returns.
Are Mr. Trump's tax returns still being audited by the IRS? Will that continue once he takes office as president?
This was discussed last week actually in my presence. And the fact is, the audit is ongoing. And so the answers are the same, that as long as there is an active audit, he will not be turning over his tax returns.
Will he turn them over once that audit is complete?
Well, he said that he would.
I just don't know about the specifics of the audit. And, again, respectfully, this was vetted very often and talked about in the media constantly on a daily basis, and the American electorate decided they wanted Donald Trump to be their president notwithstanding.
Let me ask you about the news today, several news organizations reporting that the president-elect's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will come into the White House as a senior adviser.
What exactly will his role be, and why is there not a concern about nepotism?
Well, a few things.
Jared will make that announcement formally when he and the president-elect are ready to do. I sure hope the news reports are true, Judy, because it's an absolute privilege and pleasure to work with Jared Kushner on the senior team, and has been all along in the transition and the campaign.
Jared Kushner offers a tremendous business acumen and experience as a very successful real estate developer and businessman himself. He has holdings in many of the companies that he has now promised to divest. He will sell his share at fair market value, and significant holdings like 666 Fifth Avenue, Thrive Capital, and other companies in which he has a stake.
The nepotism law doesn't — the anti-nepotism law doesn't apply to White House appointments. The president can appoint the staff he wishes to. And he has had — Jared has had many lawyers look at this, and they have concluded, in concert with the Office of Government Ethics, the OGE, that Jared is able to have the special adviser appointment by the president.
Two quick questions. Given, though, that he's the president's son-in-law, will he be first among equals among the advisers in the White House? And, second of all, is Ivanka Trump, his daughter, coming into the administration in any…
Excuse me, Judy.
Jared Kushner has the trust and the ear of his father-in-law, and that's most important in working in the West Wing in that capacity. And he has this combination of political instincts and business acumen that's truly exceptional.
He's involved in many of the decision-making processes. That will continue in the White House. And Jared's always been a fabulous team player on our senior team. He really respects the advice and counsel of all of us.
And we're also all very candid with each other. And we really try to play to everybody's best and highest use. Ivanka Trump will make that decision and that announcement, I'm sure, in the coming days or coming weeks. And she, too, has significant success in the private sector, certainly as an executive in the Trump Corporation, but also with her own brand, which is quite successful.
She tells me hundreds of millions of dollars in sales this year, the Ivanka Trump…
Excuse me. It sounds like you're saying she is coming in to the administration?
Well, that would be the intent. That certainly would be wonderful news to me. And I believe that that is the intention and the goal.
But Ivanka Trump also will make that decision and that announcement on her own terms. She, too, is working with ethics and compliance experts and lawyers to make sure everything is as it should be before those announcements are made and those jobs are taken.
Kellyanne Conway, thank you very much for talking with us.
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