Why This Photo is Stirring a Major Ethics Controversy

April 18th 2017

Ethan Simon

A photo of Ivanka Trump dining next to the President of China is raising questions about a potential conflict of interest for the first daughter's jewelry and lifestyle brand. 

Ivanka Trump

According to the Associated Press, "On April 6, Ivanka Trump's company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world's second-largest economy." That same night Ivanka and the president of China, Xi Jinping, dined together at Mar-a-Lago, alongside Chinese dignitaries and other members of the Trump family. 

So did she break any laws?

According to the Associated Press, it's not illegal for Ivanka to use her government prestige to build her brand. On the other hand, conflict-of-interest laws dictate that neither she nor her husband Jared Kushner can be involved in or try to influence China-related policy, given that they have a vested interest in the Chinese economy.

Ivanka Trump

Norman Eisen, chief ethics lawyer for the Obama White House, told the Associated Press that he "never would have allowed" Ivanka to discuss China policies, given her business dealings in the country. 


How involved is the Trump family in their businesses?

According to the Chicago Tribune, "although [Ivanka Trump] has placed her financial stake in her $50 million fashion brand in a trust, according to Trump's financial disclosure forms, that trust is overseen by Josh Kushner, her husband's brother, and his sister Nicole Meyer. And she retains a stake in the company."

And she isn't the only one who has won Chinese trademarks recently. Trump himself recently won 38 new trademarks in China—for golf courses, hotels, and the like. It's worth noting that Trump's business is now ostensibly run by his sons, a half-measure that ethics experts have called "completely unprecedented," according to the Huffington Post.  

Do Presidents usually divest from their business interests?

Jimmy Carter famously gave up his family peanut farm when he became President, and the Republicans hired a special prosecutor to investigate a fact that's been heavily satirized in the context of the Trump administration's litany of potential ethics violations. 

Even President Richard Nixon divested from his business interests after winning the presidency in 1968. According to Newsweek, "Nixon himself, who was affluent but not wealthy, sold all his stocks and bonds after he won election in 1968 — and invested the proceeds in real estate: A home in Key Biscayne, Florida, and another home in San Clemente, California."

Ivanka's relationship is Chinese policy remains unclear.

However, Richard Painter, head White House ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, explained to the Associated Press that Trump could expose herself to a conflict of interest, even if she didn't intend to. 

"The danger is that with any discussion with the Chinese, one party or the other may try to bring up trade. That's a slippery slope that may require her or Jared to step out of the room," Painter said.