By Maggie Mallon. Photos: Getty Images.
Earlier this month, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner joined Chinese President Xi Jinping for dinner at her father's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. On that same day, according to the Associated Press, Ivanka Trump's company was given provisional approval by the Chinese government for three new trademarks.
Though this is not, as the AP notes, a situation where correlation implies causation, it highlights how the First Daughter's circumstances have grown increasingly complex as she attempts to separate her government role from her business interests. After she became an official federal employee in March, Trump said she would comply with all ethics standards and keep her eponymous company separate from her role in the administration. She moved her company's assets into a family-run trust and, according to the AP, vowed to "recuse herself from issues that present conflicts."
"Ivanka will not weigh in on business strategy, marketing issues, or the commercial terms of agreements," her attorney, Jamie 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."
But as Ivanka's role in the White House has grown, so has her fashion brand—and ethicists are doubting how clear the separation between the two truly is. Despite boycott campaigns and retailers choosing to discontinue stocking Ivanka Trump merchandise, U.S. imports—primarily from China—grew 166 percent in 2016 and the brand has already hit record highs in 2017. Though it's not illegal for a government employee to "build a brand," it is illegal for Ivanka to take part in an activity that could benefit her, or her husband, financially. With her company seeking trademarks in China—and with Ivanka herself serving as an adviser to her father on trade with China or the value of Chinese currency—what was already a gray area is becoming even less black and white.
"Put the business on hold and stop trying to get trademarks while you're in government," Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, told the AP.
Norman Eisen, the chief White House ethics lawyer under Barack Obama, echoed his predecessor's sentiments.
"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 told the AP. "For their own sake, and the country's, Ivanka and Jared should consider stepping away from China matters."
Gorelick said that Ivanka will recuse herself from matters that may be perceived as a conflict of interest—such as discussions regarding duties on clothing imported from China—but will not abstain from broader foreigner policy issues, like U.S.-China trade.
"You have to assess it case-by-case," Gorelick told the AP.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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