She already has an office in the West Wing, which is unusual for an informal advisor. She’s also in the process of getting a security clearance, which is really unusual for an informal advisor. And she still has ties to her fashion business, which is being managed by a company executive but whose assets are now held by a trust managed by Jared Kushner’s relatives for her benefit. When she took her West Wing office, she promised to comply with ethical rules “voluntarily” — but since she was only an informal advisor, not a formal federal employee, it was unclear what the feds could do to punish her if she violated them. If she started doing apparel commercials from the White House press briefing room, would there be any legal recourse to stop her? (Trick question. She has Kellyanne Conway to do that for her.)
The obvious solution to all of these dilemmas: Make Ivanka a formal government employee. As “special assistant to the president,” she gets clarity on her White House office, her security clearance, and her accountability to ethics rules. The only thing she doesn’t get is a salary, which would have made the nepotism issues here even itchier than they already are.
“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” Ms. Trump said in a statement on Wednesday…
“We are pleased that Ivanka Trump has chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as first daughter and in support of the president,” a spokeswoman for the president said in an email. “Ivanka’s service as an unpaid employee furthers our commitment to ethics, transparency, and compliance and affords her increased opportunities to lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public that would not have been available to her previously.”
“Our commitment to ethics”? Trump is still getting financial reports from his sons about the family business despite promises from both sides that they wouldn’t discuss it. Eric Trump swears that those reports won’t be detailed, just bottom-line stuff about profitability, but Trump knows which assets the Trump Organization holds. I’m sure he’ll be able to deduce how different elements of the business are doing from some of the financials, which is exactly what the preferred solution, a blind trust, would have avoided.
What inspired Ivanka to make the leap from informal advisor to formal employee? It was probably the letter sent today by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Carper to the Office of Government Ethics wondering how Trump would “voluntarily” comply with ethics rules she wasn’t technically bound by. With Democrats sniffing around and the White House facing a needless distraction, they decided to resolve the ethics ambiguity by bringing her aboard as an official assistant. As for how she’ll reconcile her business interest under the trust with her government duties, a clause in the trust gives her the option to veto a deal the company is working on because it conflicts with her White House role or to recuse herself from any official White House business that might affect the company. It’ll be interesting to see how she decides which option to choose in a given case. Is it a simple matter of preferring recusal if the deal her company’s pursuing is lucrative enough?
I think a formal role is for the best because, let’s face it, she’s going to go on operating as a de facto formal advisor, replete with sitting in on meetings with Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe, no matter what. Better to at least have her under an umbrella of federal ethics rules than in that previous gray zone. With Ivanka now an official White House presence and Jared Kushner being given more and more responsibility, from overseeing the Israeli/Palestinian peace process(!) to heading up a new agency designed to streamline the federal government(!!), the two of them are quite probably the most powerful couple in the world. That’s why the standard critique flying around on Twitter this afternoon — “how would Republicans feel if President Hillary gave Chelsea a role like this?!” — doesn’t quite work. Kushner and Ivanka have considerably more power than Chelsea Clinton would have had in a Clinton administration even under the most pessimistic scenarios. And as John Ziegler points out, at least Chelsea would be acting according to her mother’s vision. The Kushners are more liberal than the average Trump fan is, on everything from climate change to federal maternity-leave policies.
Exit question: Would Ivanka be a feminist hero if her name were Ivanka Clinton?