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Ivanka Trump set to get West Wing office as role expands
The first daughter will not, however, become a government employee, raising ethics questions.
03/20/2017 05:56 PM EDT
Ivanka Trump has secured her own office on the West Wing’s second floor. | Getty
Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington saying she would play no formal role in her father’s administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House.
The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing’s second floor — a space next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was recently promoted to a position on the National Security Council. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.
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In everything but name, Trump is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father’s administration, with a broad and growing portfolio — except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said.
Trump’s role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women’s empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor’s first official visit to Trump’s White House.
As her role in the White House grows — a role that comes with no playbook — Trump plans to adhere to the same ethics and records retention rules that apply to government employees, Gorelick said, even though she is not technically an employee. But ethics watchdogs immediately questioned whether she is going far enough to eliminate conflicts of interest, especially because she will not be automatically subjected to certain ethics rules while serving as a de facto White House adviser.
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Having an adult child of the president who is actively engaged in the work of the administration is new ground,” Gorelick conceded in an interview on Monday. “Our view is that the conservative approach is for Ivanka to voluntarily comply with the rules that would apply if she were a government employee, even though she is not.” A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump said her role was signed off on by the White House counsel’s office, and the conflict issues were “worked through” with the office of government ethics. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the unique arrangement.
People close to Ivanka Trump said that she sees nothing unusual about the arrangement — it’s simply how she has worked with her father for years, as a senior official at the Trump Organization and as Donald Trump’s partner on “The Apprentice.”
But in the White House, the unprecedented arrangement for a child of the president has raised new questions about potential conflicts of interest — and about why Ivanka Trump can’t simply join the administration as a government employee. Her husband, Jared Kushner, serves as an official senior adviser in the White House and was sworn in, but his hiring also raised questions of whether it violated anti-nepotism laws. The Justice Department ruled that those laws applied only to agency appointments.
Ivanka Trump still owns her eponymous fashion and jewelry brand, even though she stepped down from her position at the company ahead of her father’s inauguration. She is also publishing a book, “Women Who Work,” which is due out in May.
I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life,” Trump said in a statement. “While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees.
The arrangement, however, was greeted with more questions about what freedoms Trump was trying to preserve for herself — and why.
“They’re not saying she’s going to voluntarily subject herself to ethics rules to be nice,” said Norm Eisen, the former ethics czar in the Obama administration. “There’s recognition that they’re in very uncertain territory here. The better thing to do would be to concede she is subject to the rules. It would create some outside accountability, because if she can voluntarily subject herself to the rules, she can voluntarily un-subject herself to the rules.”
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Under the new rules, Trump has divested her common stock, tech investments, investment funds — and they will all appear on Kushner’s 278 financial disclosure form, required by all Cabinet nominees. Bloomberg News reported on Monday afternoon that Trump and Kushner sold as much as $36.7 million in assets to comply with federal ethics rules, according to the Office of Government Ethics.
But when it comes to divesting from her business, however, Gorelick admitted there is no way to make it a conflict-free zone.
“The one thing I would like to be clear on: we don’t believe it eliminates conflicts in every way,” Gorelick said. “She has the conflicts that derive from the ownership of this brand. We’re trying to minimize those to the extent possible.
Gorelick argued that the area is murky because outstanding contracts with third party vendors mean that Ivanka Trump cannot simply close her business — those vendors could continue using her brand. She also can’t sell the business, her attorney argued, because the buyer would have the right to license her name and potentially create other ethical issues.
Instead, Trump will be distancing herself, as much as possible, from the day-to-day operations of the Ivanka Trump brand and convey her interests to a trust.
The trust, Gorelick said, will be controlled by her brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and her sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer, who will be prohibited from entering the brand into any agreements with foreign countries or agencies. Ivanka Trump has appointed Abigail Klem to serve as president of her company, overseeing the day-to-day operations, and prohibited the company from using her image to sell the brand. The first daughter, however, will retain veto power to kill any deals that would be “unacceptable from an ethics perspective.”
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Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, will also serve as the outside ethics adviser to the trustees. The business will also be prohibited from using her image to market the brand.
Under the trust, her attorneys said, Ivanka Trump will receive only the information she needs for disclosure requirements and to facilitate compliance with conflict of interest and impartiality rules.
As for the money she will make from her book, Trump is planning to donate the royalties and net proceeds to charities that focus on women in the workforce, with the help of a donor-advised fund.
The measures that Ivanka Trump is undergoing to comply with federal ethics laws, ethics watchdogs said, are better than nothing. But they argued they are weak in the face of the flagrant violations of ethics standards by the president. Donald Trump’s hotels and golf courses, for instance, continue to engage in business with foreign and national groups that have interests in front of the White House.
“You might be inclined to view this differently and more generously if the White House had shown a stronger commitment to ethics enforcement,” Eisen said.