In March 2017, just a couple of months after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, Ivanka Trump started working in the White House, reversing her earlier commitments. A month later, on April 6, 2017, China approved new trademarks for Ivanka Trump’s company.
The same day, the president’s daughter dined at Mar-a-Lago, sitting next to Chinese President Xi Jinping. For those concerned about possible conflicts of interest surrounding the First Family, these were not welcome developments.
More than a year later, there are new reasons to ask the same questions. The New York Times reported yesterday, for example, that China has awarded Ivanka Trump’s company a series of new trademarks, just as her father took controversial steps to help a major Chinese telecommunications company.
The developments may very well be unrelated, but the point is, we shouldn’t even have to wonder about the motivations of the relevant players.
[T]he remarkable timing is raising familiar questions about the Trump family’s businesses and its patriarch’s status as commander in chief. Even as Mr. Trump contends with Beijing on issues like security and trade, his family and the company that bears his name are trying to make money off their brand in China’s flush and potentially promising market.
The most recent slew of trademarks appear to have been granted along the same timeline as Ms. Trump’s previous requests, experts said. But more broadly, they said, Ms. Trump’s growing portfolio of trademarks in China and the family’s business interests there raises questions about whether Chinese officials are giving the Trump family extra consideration that they otherwise might not get.
Before the president’s supporters shrug their shoulders, they may want to consider how they’d react if a President Hillary Clinton were engaged in trade talks with China, while at the same time, Chelsea Clinton’s private business were receiving valuable trademarks from officials in Beijing.
How many hearings do you suppose a Republican-led Congress would hold on the subject?
An Associated Press report from last year continues to ring true:
Using the prestige of government service to build a brand is not illegal. But criminal conflict of interest law prohibits federal officials, like Trump and her husband, from participating in government matters that could impact their own financial interest or that of their spouse. Some argue that the more her business broadens its scope, the more it threatens to encroach on the ability of two trusted advisers to deliver credible counsel to the president on core issues like trade, intellectual property, and the value of the Chinese currency.
“Put the business on hold and stop trying to get trademarks while you’re in government,” advised Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush. […]
“Ivanka has so many China ties and conflicts, yet she and Jared appear deeply involved in China contacts and policy. I would never have allowed it,” said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under Barack Obama. “For their own sake, and the country’s, Ivanka and Jared should consider stepping away from China matters.”
They ignored this advice.
It’s worth emphasizing that just as Donald Trump does not oversee management of the private-sector ventures he owns, Ivanka Trump is not managing her business, transferring control to a family-run trust.
That’s not even close, however, to divesting or creating some kind of independent firewall.