The Trump administration's ethical conflicts are in the spotlight again following reports of Ivanka Trump's business receiving approval from China for a slew of trademarks.
The timing of the approvals is especially noteworthy in light of President Donald Trump's vow this month to save failing Chinese telecom giant ZTE—timing of which itself raised ethical questions.
The New York Times reports that the first daughter's business received seven of these trademark apporvals this month. According to one expert the Times spoke with, the turnaround from application to approval was unusually quick, given that six of the trademarks were applied for in March 2017. The Associated Press also reports that the latest approval, received Sunday, marks her 13th trademark in China in the last three months. Ivanka, also a White House adviser, received provisional approval for eight others in the same time frame.
Taken together, the trademarks could allow her brand to market a lifetime's worth of products in China, from baby blankets to coffins, and a host of things in between, including perfume, make-up, bowls, mirrors, furniture, books, coffee, chocolate, and honey. Ivanka Trump stepped back from management of her brand and placed its assets in a family-run trust, but she continues to profit from the business.
In a tweet, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) notes the suspicious timeline:
May 6 and May 7: Ivanka Trump’s business wins approval for trademarks in China— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) May 27, 2018
May 11: The Chinese government floated a $500 million loan to a project partnered with the Trump Org
May 13: Trump announces his intention to save the Chinese tech giant ZTEhttps://t.co/7rW4J17AMI
"Ivanka Trump's refusal to divest from her business is especially troubling as the Ivanka brand continues to expand its business in foreign countries," CREW's executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said to AP. "It raises significant questions about corruption, as it invites the possibility that she could be benefiting financially from her position and her father's presidency or that she could be influenced in her policy work by countries' treatment of her business."
CREW's Caroline Zhang also noted:
Last year, Ivanka's business won preliminary approval for three trademarks on the same day that she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Earlier this year, Trump announced tariffs against China that exempted clothing—including clothing imports from Ivanka's Chinese manufacturers.
Despite these potential conflicts, Ivanka continues to play a prominent foreign policy role.
"Optics and ethics are two words that simply are lacking in the Trump family lexicon," argues Splinter News' David Boddiger, reporting on the trademarks.
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Norman Eisen, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and chair of CREW, addressed how businesses owned by the members of the Trump family are mired in apparent conflicts of interests.
In an op-ed for Yahoo News, they argued Friday:
When foreign governments do business with Ivanka Trump, they know that they are dealing with the favored daughter of the U.S. president who also works in her father's White House. Some countries will no doubt see this as a way to curry favor with President Trump. Other countries may see the business requests made by his daughter's company as requests they cannot refuse.
All of these issues cause serious credibility problems for the president and his family of princelings with the American people. A president sets the standards for his administration. President Trump's standard is that public office can and should be used for private financial gain.
The scrutiny over the trademarks comes as Ivanka Trump also faces backlash over a photo she posted to social media Sunday showing her cuddling her toddler son. Critics labeled it "tone deaf" given the Trump administration's new policy to take children away from their parents if they are caught crossing the border without documentation.