Greenblatt is currently the chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, Trump’s sprawling real estate and licensing company, where he represents Trump’s business interests in domestic and international negotiations. Greenblatt also served as an adviser on Israel during Trump’s presidential campaign.
As of Tuesday afternoon, it was unclear what Greenblatt’s responsibilities would be within the Trump administration ― whether he would focus primarily on Israel-related issues, as he did during the campaign, or on trade negotiations, which Trump has made a focal point of his White House agenda.
It was also unclear whether Greenblatt’s position would be based in the White House, or within another federal agency. A spokesperson for the Trump transition team did not respond Tuesday to questions about Greenblatt from The Huffington Post.
In his announcement, Trump seemed to leave the door open for Greenblatt to be involved in a wide range of issues. “His talents lend themselves perfectly to the role I have asked him to play, assisting on international negotiations of all types, and trade deals around the world,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump noted that Greenblatt, who has worked for Trump’s company for more than 20 years, “has a history of negotiating substantial, complex transactions on my behalf, as well as the expertise to bring parties together and build consensus on difficult and sensitive topics.”
“I am deeply grateful and humbled by President-elect Trump’s decision to appoint me to represent the United States in international negotiations,” Greenblatt said in the statement. “My philosophy, in both business and in life, is that bringing people together and working to unite, rather than to divide, is the strongest path to success.”
Trump’s decision to create a new high-level government position for the lawyer who represents Trump’s private business interests is not likely to sit well with government ethics experts, who have warned for months about the potential for Trump to use the presidency to enrich himself or his real estate businesses.
Trump has so far refused to sell his shares in the Trump Organization, claiming that he can avoid any conflict of interest by simply turning over the management of the real estate development company to his two adult sons, and pledging not to talk to them about the business while he is president.
By naming Greenblatt to his administration, Trump is tapping someone who has limited experience in foreign affairs or trade policy, yet has expert knowledge of the multinational Trump Organization, and of what would be in the best interests of the company.
In addition to his work representing Trump’s interests in real estate negotiations, Greenblatt also served as the co-chairman of Trump’s “Israel Advisory Committee,” alongside Trump’s eventual nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer from Long Island.
Greenblatt and Friedman were influential advisers to Trump as the president-elect formulated his aggressively pro-Israel foreign policy stance, which is at odds with a number of decisions made by the Obama administration.
Most recently, the United States chose to abstain from a vote in the United Nations to censure Israel for building settlements on Palestinian territory. The United States has traditionally vetoed UN resolutions that singled out Israel’s policy toward the more than 4 million Palestinians who live in occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
Trump criticized the decision on Twitter, and pledged that his administration would “negotiate peace.”