SOME PEOPLE are famous. Some people are rich. Some people are rich and famous. Ivanka Trump is rich at least partly because she’s famous. And she’s famous in large part because her father is famous. This was the case long before President Trump got his current job. The 36-year-old Ms. Trump’s rise in business began in the family firm, the Trump Organization, and has since branched out into such things as her merchandise branding firm, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, books with her name on the cover and so on. She’s capable and savvy, but her personal commercial success is patently inseparable from that of her father.
And so Ms. Trump’s decision to take an official White House position, even an unpaid one, as an adviser to her father was always going to be problematic. Presidential family members have engaged in for-profit businesses that might be affected, directly or indirectly, by government decisions: Billy Carter notoriously tried to broker a Libyan purchase of American transport planes while his brother, Jimmy, was president. And they have served as high officials in one another’s administration’s: Robert Kennedy was his brother President John F. Kennedy’s attorney general. What’s much more unusual is that a first family member should try to do both simultaneously — as Ms. Trump is now.
This would be an awkward ethical fit even if Ms. Trump were handling it with the greatest of discretion, and she’s not. Rather than divest completely from private business and content herself with the honor and challenge of serving the president and the country, she has done the minimum that government ethics rules require by putting her merchandising business in a trust. This means she still profits from the company and therefore is in position to benefit generally when foreign governments make decisions to its benefit, such as the 13 trademarks it has recently secured from the government of China, to cover goods branded with her name. Her company also has pending and registered trademarks in countries including Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
An official for the company said the Chinese trademarks were filed in 2017 to prevent counterfeiters from using her name. “The brand has filed, updated, and rigorously protected its international trademarks over the past several years in the normal course of business, especially in regions where trademark infringement is rampant,” said Abigail Klem, president of the brand. “We have recently seen a surge in trademark filings by unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name and it is our responsibility to diligently protect our trademark.” That’s somewhat mitigating, in that it does not suggest that Ms. Trump is engaged in aggressive new trading on her name, but she’s still trading on it.
The fact that China granted some of these valuable intellectual property rights just a few days before the president agreed to relax U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE only fortifies the appearance that foreign governments seek to influence the U.S. government by bestowing business favors on the president’s daughter. This is an inference of impropriety that most ethical people, whether in business or in government, would go to the greatest possible lengths to dispel, but — so far, at least — not Ms. Trump.