On Monday, at the same time her father, President Trump, fired the acting attorney general of the United States, Ivanka Trump and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, were having a low-key dinner at an Italian restaurant a mile from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
For the most part, the young couple enjoyed a completely ho hum meal at the sleek new RPM Italian where main courses range from $14 to $61. Other diners stole quick glances at the pair and their Secret Service retinue, but no one interrupted the couple’s evening out.
Everything seemed to be running smoothly until the bill came. According to two people sitting directly adjacent to the pair, minutes after Trump and Kushner received the check, an employee of the restaurant swooped in to “handle it” Olivia Pope-style. RPM is owned in part by Bill Rancic, winner of the first season of “The Apprentice” in 2004, and his wife, TV host Giuliana Rancic.
“He walks out and says, ‘Oh no no no. This is on us,'” recalled Mary Mallampalli, a management consultant who was having dinner with friends, fresh from protesting outside the Supreme Court.
Federal employees are not allowed to accept gifts, including meals, that are worth more than $20, according to the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. And Kushner, a former real estate developer who was named to his official White House role three weeks ago and who does not take a salary, was adamant about playing by the rules.
“Jared said right then and there, ‘I am not allowed to accept this, I’m a government employee,'” Mallampalli said.
An RPM spokeswoman told us that Kushner “paid 100 percent for their bill.” But that spokeswoman could not confirm whether the couple had been offered to dine gratis.
“It sounds like they handled the situation as best they could,” said attorney Jan Baran, who served on George H.W. Bush’s ethics commission. “It’s no fun being a lightning rod in Washington.”
Baran also pointed out that even if they couple had eaten for free, it would have been more of a political faux pas than an clear ethics violation. The Standard of Ethical Conduct does make an exception for “gifts based on a personal relationship,” defined as gifts given because of a family relationship or personal friendship and not motivated by the federal employee’s position.
So on Monday the couple showed up, they ate and the bill was paid. Done and done. Seems like a cut-and-dried case. But the mere mention of a comped meal “left a sour taste” according to another diner at Mallampalli’s table. Welcome to the new Washington social scene where not even date night can escape divisiveness. A lesson the Trump-Kushners may have learned after less than two weeks in town.
For example, on Saturday, the always Instagrammable couple were called to task on social media after Ivanka Trump posted a photo of her and her husband decked out in black tie for the Alfalfa Club dinner, an annual ballroom boozefest for 1-percenters. The scheduling of the post was less than ideal, critics said, as thousands were protesting her father’s ban on immigrants at airports around the country at the time.