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President-elect Donald Trump has spent the past few weeks filling out the top jobs in his administration. And along the way, he has named some prominent people as special advisers. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at what a special adviser does and why Trump's move has some people worried.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Trump named former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani special adviser on cybersecurity, and he named billionaire investor Carl Icahn special adviser on regulatory issues. What they'll be doing is still unclear. The title special advisor is a vague one.
WILLIAM GALSTON: It is not a formal title. Special advisor means whatever the president wants it to mean.
ZARROLI: Bill Galston, senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution, says there have long been advisors at the White House, such as Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett. But Trump seems to intend special adviser to be a kind of honorific - someone whose advice he can seek from time to time. Interviewed on CNBC last month, Icahn said he won't be making policy. He'll be giving advice about things such as hiring.
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CARL ICAHN: It doesn't mean Donald is going to take my advice necessarily. I'm not the guy saying, well, he's got the job.
ZARROLI: What separates Icahn and Giuliani from other advisors is that neither is giving up his day job. Icahn is an active investor with large stakes in companies that have business before the government, including Xerox and AIG. Giuliani has a cybersecurity consulting practice. Galston says being named as Trump's cybersecurity adviser can only help Giuliani's business.
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ICAHN: The way the world works - if you're perceived as having proximity to power, that brings certain advantages.
ZARROLI: To Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Trump's reliance on advisors with a financial stake in government policy is a problem.
NOAH BOOKBINDER: I think there's a significant cause for concern there. You have people who are going to be advising the president, apparently in a important way, on issues that directly affect their businesses.
ZARROLI: Bookbinder says because special advisers aren't formal positions, they aren't covered by conflict of interest laws, and it's hard to know what their real roles are.
BOOKBINDER: These people don't need to be officially vetted. They don't need to be confirmed, and their arrangements are not in any official ways scrutinized by Congress.
ZARROLI: But Bill Galston, who worked in the Clinton White House, says what Trump is doing isn't necessarily unusual. All presidents turn to outsiders for advice.
GALSTON: People give self-interested advice to politicians all the time. If that were criminal activity, I think our jails would be even fuller than they are.
ZARROLI: Galston says it will be up to President Trump to sift through all the advice he gets and judge whether the advisor is acting in the country's best interests. And in the end, that's one of the ways he will be judged. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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