Ivanka’s Email Scandal Has a Familiar Moral
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Ivanka Trump used her personal email account last year to handle as many as 100 discussions of official White House matters. If that doesn’t strike you as a rather ironic turn of events, then fine-tune your antennae by looking up any old online video of her father threatening to put Hillary Clinton in jail for using a private email server, calling on Russian hackers to find her missing emails, or praising the FBI for reopening an investigation of the former secretary of state’s “criminal and illegal conduct.”
The Washington Post reported Monday evening that many of those emails, which went to White House aides, federal officials and Ivanka’s assistants, were “in violation of federal records rules” and linked to a private domain — “ijkfamily.com” — that she shared with her husband, Jared Kushner.
Ivanka’s private messages came to light when White House ethics officials reviewed Cabinet-level emails they were collecting in response to a public records lawsuit filed last fall.
“The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton,” the Post noted. “Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules.”
It’s possible that Ivanka — who worked closely with her father on his presidential campaign and saw him turn Clinton into a pinata for using a personal server and mishandling classified information — wasn’t aware that federal records rules might someday apply to her. It may be possible she didn’t contemplate that using email housed on “ijkfamily.com” — a setup she created only two months after Donald Trump was elected president and while her husband was preparing to join the White House — might someday cause her grief.
Then again, it’s also possible that Ivanka, like her father, assumes that rules are for other people and not the Trumps.
For example, Ivanka used her personal email in February 2017 to contact the head of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, about “opportunities to collaborate” at a time when she was joining White House meetings but had no official title or role. Newsweek reported all of that last year, and also disclosed that the first daughter identified herself as “Ivanka Kushner” in the communiques. She became a federal employee a month after contacting McMahon. (Politico has reported that Jared Kushner had been using a private email account during this same period; the New York Times has reported that the use of private email was common among other members of Trump’s senior White House staff.) The Post story on Monday night upped the ante by revealing that Ivanka’s use of personal email was much more voluminous than was known publicly and thus was a “closely held secret inside the White House.”
This isn’t the only example of the first daughter charting her own course. When she went about defining and redefining her White House role during the early months of her father’s administration last year, she decided against parting ways with her namesake apparel and accessories business. Although she hired someone else to run her company when she went to Washington, she remained a beneficiary of its financial success (and she used her heightened visibility to market the company’s products, often just by wearing them). It wasn’t until last summer that she finally shuttered the operation in order to, among other things, address concerns about ethics.
Ivanka’s business isn’t entirely dormant, either. In October the Chinese government granted it 16 new trademarks for a variety of products including fashion, apparel,“nursing homes, sausage casing, and voting machines.”
Although Ivanka eventually became an unpaid adviser to her father, she earns handsome sums from other activities — like the $3.9 million she received in 2017 from her stake in the family’s Washington, D.C. hotel, the Trump International. That’s the same hotel that is part of a portfolio of properties from which the Trumps are supposed to remit profits earned from business with foreign governments to the Treasury Department. But accounting for and disclosure of those payments has been opaque; thus far the Trumps have apparently only turned over about $150,000.
The Trump International sits atop federally owned land (meaning, essentially, that Trump is leasing the site from himself) and plays host to legions of foreign diplomats — which has helped make the hotel a target of lawsuits alleging that he is violating “emoluments” provisions of the Constitution that forbid the president from taking any gifts, rewards or benefits from a foreign or state government. The hotel represents a clear financial conflict of interest for the president and for Ivanka, but they’ve held on tight.
Ivanka and her father also share a history of deceiving investors and buyers about the prospects of Trump-branded properties, as ProPublica and WNYC shared with us in a deeply reported investigation of that legacy published last month.
Even with such close scrutiny, Ivanka has managed to steer clear of any meaningful entanglements in her brief White House career. With a possible email scandal brewing, however, that may be about change — especially if incoming Democrats in the House of Representatives decide it’s time to exercise their oversight responsibilities in the new year and remind the first daughter about the importance of rules.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
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