When Donald Trump was elected president, his daughter Ivanka Trump said she would move to Washington, D.C., but not into a White House office.
Since then, she has often been photographed in key White House meetings with foreign leaders and Cabinet members. Now she will have her own office in the West Wing, along with a security clearance and government-issued communications devices.
In her unpaid role, Ivanka will “continue to be the eyes and ears of her father and provide candid advice as she has for her entire adult life,” her attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in an NPR interview. “She is intending to spend some time on initiatives that she cares about, particularly with regard to women in the workplace.”
Ivanka’s elevated position has historians and ethics experts questioning the appropriateness of having one of the president’s adult children serving directly in the administration, especially while continuing to own a business.
Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, says Ivanka’s White House role raises concerns such as: “Do the rules apply on nepotism, on conflict of interest, on other kinds of regulations that employees face?”
Zelizer says previous presidents have relied upon children for input. For example, President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice frequently offered political advice, and George W. Bush often played an advisory role when his father, George H.W. Bush, was president.
But this situation is different because it appears Ivanka will be have an expansive portfolio, not just offer insights. She will not be sworn in, nor need Senate approval.
Her husband, Jared Kushner, also is serving in the administration, but he has official status as a senior adviser who took an oath of office. Earlier this year, some critics questioned whether his role violated the anti-nepotism law passed in 1967 to prevent a president from placing a relative in a Cabinet or federal agency job.
But that law was challenged when President Bill Clinton named his wife, Hillary Clinton, to lead a task force on health care. A federal judge ruled in that case the anti-nepotism law doesn’t apply to White House staff jobs.
When Kushner came into the White House job, he turned over his role in his family’s real estate empire to family members, who continue to own the business.
Ivanka plans to continue to own her eponymous fashion and jewelry business, even though she has stepped back from daily management. Her father has followed that pattern, too, continuing to own The Trump Organization while putting his two eldest sons in charge of management.
Gorelick said Ivanka spoke with the White House counsel about the ethical implication of taking this role and “they are comfortable with what she’s doing.”
She added that Ivanka will “abide by all the ethical rules that she would abide by if she were an employee.”
But just having a high-visibility role could stir up questions about whether her White House presence could be seen as promoting her products as people try to curry favor with her.
“She is not simply part of the family; she is a businesswoman,” Zelizer notes.
Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St Louis and a specialist in government ethics, says the Trump administration’s arguments that conflict-of-interest rules don’t bind the president or his daughter are disheartening.
“My biggest concern is that this is yet another erosion of government ethics standards in this White House,” Clark said.