The ethics experts argued: “The basic problem in the proposed relationship is that it appears to be trying to create a middle space that does not exist. On the one hand Ms. Trump’s position will provide her with the privileges and opportunities for public service that attach to being a White House employee. On the other hand, she remains the owner of a private business who is free from the ethics and conflicts rules that apply to White House employees.”
Apparently, Ivanka Trump’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick (former deputy attorney general for President Bill Clinton) agreed. In a statement put out Wednesday, Ivanka Trump said she would be an employee and abide by all relevant conflicts regulations (“throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role”).
Norman Eisen, one of the ethics gurus who wrote to McGahn, told me, “The White House was perhaps blinded by their disdain for ethics, but I am glad they and Ivanka came to their senses on this.” He gently rebuffed the White House for arguing that the nepotism law does not prevent Ivanka Trump from serving. “I disagree with their read of the nepotism law, but reasonable people can differ and if the princelings are to stand behind [President] Trump’s throne they should at least admit they are not above the law, and they have,” he said.
Ivanka Trump is not the only non-employee/employee with a questionable classification. Fortune magazine reported:
Several Democratic senators pressed billionaire investor Carl Icahn on Monday to clarify his role as an adviser to President Donald Trump, saying his position in the administration raised “alarming” questions about potential conflicts of interest with his stakes in the biofuels and pharmaceutical industries.The senators, led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, sent a letter to Icahn pointing out that, as a Trump adviser on regulation, he has made policy proposals that benefit his own investments – which range from an oil refinery to an nutritional supplement manufacturer. . . .
According to Eisen, Carl Icahn — like Ivanka — “is also a special government employee and who should also admit it and follow applicable law, including the conflicts rules.” Icahn’s situation is one more blatant instance of ethical sloth in a White House that vowed to drain the swamp. (“Icahn owns an 82% stake in CVR Energy, which along with other refining companies, has called for changes to the Renewable Fuel Program to shift the burden of blending biofuels into gasoline away from refiners and further down stream to marketers. Icahn has said the change would help the entire refining industry, not just CVR,” Fortune noted.)
Certainly the ethical pig sty remains, despite Ivanka Trump’s decision. Eisen urged that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin be cited “for his transgression last week by promoting a film he produced” when he noted prohibitions on his hawking of his “Lego Batman” movie — and then joked he would send it to a reporter’s kids. (The hand-slap administered to Kellyanne Conway, who touted Ivanka Trump’s jewelry and clothing line, surely signaled that there is no real penalty to be paid for flouting ethics rules.)
Whether it is Mnuchin or Ichan or Jared Kushner (who only recently cut off negotiations with the Chinese on a business deal while serving as a senior adviser to Trump), the governing rule in the Trump White House is simple: There are no rules. The fish, they say, rots from the head. Trump still owns his businesses, receiving items of value (Chinese trademarks, Saudi hotel bookings, Chinese renting space in Trump Tower) from foreign governments in apparent violation of the Constitution. Eisen vowed that “we are proceeding full speed ahead with our emoluments suit” (filed on behalf of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington).
Democrats might want to bring all this up — in addition to the Russia scandal — in the 2018 elections. Republicans’ lack of interest in any of these ethical concerns enables Trump’s ethical misadventures and potential constitutional violations while demonstrating to other administration figures that there is no downside to being an ethical scofflaw. If they had the majority in the House, at least Democrats could conduct a much-needed investigation and then enforce the Constitution and, with regard to Trump’s advisers, applicable statutes. Republicans seem intent on turning a blind eye to what has quickly become the most ethically deficient administration since Richard Nixon’s. Voters should remember this when the GOP asks for their votes.