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Why Kellyanne Conway's husband has been tapped for a big post at the DOJ

The longtime Republican lawyer would likely help lead the defense of the Trump administration's executive order on immigration, which was blocked by two federal judges last week. 

In this Jan. 19, 2017 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, center, accompanied by her husband, George, speaks with members of the media as they arrive for a dinner at Union Station in Washington, the day before Trump's inauguration. Trump has chosen George Conway to head the civil division of the Justice Department.
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The husband of Kellyanne Conway and a partner at one of New York’s most prestigious law firms may take on a major role in defending the Trump administration.

George Conway is expected to be nominated to head the civil division of the Department of Justice, The Wall Street Journal first reported on Friday. Mr. Conway would be responsible for leading the defense of the administration in lawsuits.

Conway’s likely nomination comes as the Justice Department prepares appeals of rulings that blocked President Trump’s revised travel ban. The president has vowed to see his executive order through, even if it means bringing it to the Supreme Court. Such a move would put Conway in the throes of this legal debate.

The executive order, which seeks to restrict travel from six predominantly Muslim nations, was blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and in Maryland last week. The Trump administration has argued that the ban is necessary to help fight terrorism. But US District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii and US District Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland found in two separate rulings that the order unfairly targets Muslim travelers.  

In Hawaii, Judge Watson noted that courts should not examine "secret motives" of government officials, but said the intention of Trump's order was clear, citing "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus" behind the ban, The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.

"For instance, there is nothing 'veiled' about this press release: 'Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,' " Watson wrote, referring to a statement Trump issued on the campaign trail.

The Trump administration filed court papers on Friday to challenge the Maryland ruling, setting up a new legal showdown in the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, located in Richmond, Virginia, according to the Chicago Tribune. But Trump has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court to get the ban reinstated.  

"We're going to win. We're going to keep our citizens safe," he said at a rally in Nashville last week. "The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear."

If Conway is confirmed by the Senate, he would likely play a major role in the Justice Department’s challenge in this case. The litigation partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz has seen success in the High Court before. In the 1990s, he wrote the Supreme Court brief in a sexual harassment lawsuit against former President Clinton, establishing a legal precedent for a sitting president to be sued in civil court. Mr. Clinton’s denial of an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky during a deposition in the Paula Jones case led to the then-president’s impeachment trial.

Conway, a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, has also represented a long list of corporate clients. A respected Republican lawyer, Conway has represented Phillip Morris, Cardinal Health, and the National Football League. He also clerked for US Circuit Judge Ralph Winter, Jr. of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who was nominated to the court by former President Reagan. According to Conway’s biography on his firm’s website, he has worked on major securities law cases and deal litigation.

Conway was previously considered for the post of solicitor general of the Justice Department, a position that ultimately went to Noel Francisco.

Conway’s wife, Kellyanne, has been an influential member of the Trump team since the election. A longtime Republican pollster, she is credited with helping turn around the Trump campaign when the candidate was trailing Hillary Clinton. After the Trump’s victory, Kellyanne joined the administration as a counselor to the president. She is also known for artfully defending the president in the press, but has been criticized for backing Trump’s unsubstantiated claims, including his most recent allegation he was wiretapped by former President Obama. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.