When Ivanka Trump gained her office in the West Wing, in theory, she was supposed to step back from her business. Instead, the first daughter officially put the business in a trust and gave control of it to her in-laws. After that, she even became an unpaid White House employee in order to further appease the ethics experts. Ivanka must recuse herself from government issues that affect her clothing and accessories business. Unfortunately, that last bit is a little hard to set limits for, given the job. For example, on the same day Ivanka had dinner with the Chinese president, her company won Chinese trademarks.
That news was first reported by the Associated Press on Tuesday, but occurred back on April 6. The AP reported that three new trademarks were awarded that give the Ivanka Trump Marks LLC that would give the company the sole right to sell jewelry, bags, and spa services in China. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the very same night Trump and her husband, the president's adviser Jared Kushner, were down in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, and shared steaks with Xi Jinping.
As Politico reported at the time, "The menu for the formal dinner — held at two long tables set with white tablecloths, candelabras and red-and-yellow flower arrangements under gold chandeliers — included some of Trump’s known favorites, dry-aged steak and whipped potatoes." The meal also included the presence of his daughter and son-in-law.
While that's not illegal, it shows how complicated it can be to separate the business from politics. She would only technically need to step away from a meeting if the conversation turned to "duties on clothing imported from China," Ivanka's lawyer Jamie Gorelick told the Associated Press. General foreign policy doesn't count, she explained, adding that "in between, you have to assess it case-by-case."
When she first announced the ethics steps through Gorelick in the New York Times, it was reported that the Ivanka trust "prohibits her brand from reaching agreements with foreign governments or state-owned enterprises." But this is not a deal. Rather the government of China is awarding a trademark, something that many American companies find difficult. Ivanka Trump Marks LLC has 16 registered trademarks in China at the moment and 32 pending applications, the AP reported. Ivanka did not sign off on any applications personally.
This is enough for some to suggest that she and Kushner should step away from issues regarding China. Norman Eisen, Obama's top ethics lawyer, told the AP he wouldn't have approved. "Ivanka has so many China ties and conflicts, yet she and Jared appear deeply involved in China contacts and policy. I would never have allowed it," Eisen said. "For their own sake, and the country's, Ivanka and Jared should consider stepping away from China matters."
Trump's lawyer sees it differently, though. "Ivanka will not weigh in on business strategy, marketing issues, or the commercial terms of agreements," Gorelick told the AP in a statement. "She has retained authority to direct the trustees to terminate agreements that she determines create a conflict of interest or the appearance of one."
While there's nothing indicating that anything improper happened, it does show that the established trust might not be enough to protect from ethics accusations. That's reason enough to reconsider the ethics setup and further delineate between business and government.