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White House: Ivanka Trump will have ‘no authority’ over World Bank fund to help women-owned businesses

Ivanka Trump visits the Berlin Holocaust memorial with memorial director Uwe Neumärker, right, on April 25. (Michael Sohn/AFP/Getty Images)

Ivanka Trump helped inspire an idea under consideration at the World Bank — an international fund to invest in women-owned businesses — but the first daughter would have no role in raising money for such a fund or deciding where its money would be spent, a Trump administration official said Wednesday.

“She will not solicit funds. This is not a White House fund. This is not something that she will have any authority over in any way,” the administration official said in a late-afternoon call with reporters. The official declined to be quoted by name describing an idea still in its early stages.

That account, on a call with World Bank officials listening in, was markedly different from the first report on the fund in the online news site Axios on Wednesday morning.

The site reported that Ivanka Trump “has begun building a massive fund that will benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe.” Axios's original report seemed to imply that the fund was Ivanka Trump's idea and that she might be poised to lead its fundraising and its investments. “Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made quiet commitments, as have several corporations,” Axios reported.

That report raised legal and ethical questions because Trump is a formal White House staffer, with the title “assistant to the president.” By rule, experts said, she would be prohibited from using her official position to solicit money for a new nonprofit set up to help women, or a for-profit investment fund.

“It would be impossible for her to do this without people seeing it as a way to curry favor with the Trump administration,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies legal ethics. Others cited parallels to the Clinton Foundation, which Donald Trump excoriated on the campaign trail, calling it a vehicle that allowed opponent Hillary Clinton to rake in donations from people with business before the government. How would it be better, they said, if Ivanka Trump was soliciting donations for a pet project from countries — or companies — that might want something from her father?

Later in the day, Axios posted an update, citing a White House official saying that the fund would be run by the World Bank instead.

By the late afternoon, the Trump administration and the World Bank had said that the fund was not something that would be under Ivanka Trump's control. Instead, it would probably be what the World Bank calls a “facility,” or a fund that offers money and technical assistance to businesses. The plan is far from settled, World Bank spokesmen said, but it might involve a fund that takes donations from countries, nonprofit groups and perhaps some companies. That money would then be invested — via middlemen — in small-to-medium-size businesses owned by women.

If that is the case, World Bank officials said, the fund's money would be controlled by the World Bank.

The idea was first mentioned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, during a forum in Berlin where Ivanka Trump joined Merkel onstage. But a Trump administration official said the idea originally came from Ivanka Trump, during a meeting she had with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The administration official said that Kim had then taken the idea to Merkel and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who liked it.

“Kim spoke with Chancellor Merkel, Lagarde. He called back Ivanka and said, 'There's really a lot of interest in your idea,' ” the administration official said.

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The fund is not likely to begin its work for some time. The administration official said it might be formally announced later this year.

When would it be up and running? A World Bank spokesman said in “a while.”

How long is a while?

The spokesman declined to be more specific.