USA Politics First Look

Why Ivanka Trump is now an unpaid government employee

Following controversy over her initial intention of serving in a more informal role, Ivanka Trump will join the White House as an unpaid presidential assistant.

Ivanka Trump speaks at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington on March 28. Ms. Trump announced Wednesday, March 29, that she will serve as an unpaid employee in the White House.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
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Ivanka Trump, eldest daughter of President Trump and wife of the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, will become a formal assistant to the president, making her an unpaid government employee.

Ms. Trump has long served as an influential adviser to Mr. Trump, having previously spent years working as her father’s senior adviser at the Trump Organization and even serving as his partner on the television show, “The Apprentice.” 

Last week Ms. Trump stated her intention of serving as an informal advisor to her father, acknowledging she already had an office in the White House upstairs from her husband's and was in the process of receiving government-issued security clearance and communications devices.

Such unofficial advising roles are not uncommon in family-run businesses. Despite Ms. Trump promises to “voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees,” former White House ethics lawyers raised concerns that labeling the position as “unofficial” leaves potential room to skirt such rules. 

“This arrangement appears designed to allow Ms. Trump to avoid the ethics, conflict-of-interest, and other rules that apply to White House employees,” wrote Norman L. Eisen and Richard W. Painter, ethics lawyers for former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively, in a letter to White House counsel.

“That is the core problem with the proposed arrangement for Ms. Trump: she is seeking the ‘status’ of assuming what is in fact, if not in name, a ‘formal White House position’ (one that includes a West Wing office, a security clearance, and an issues portfolio),” the letter continues, “but at the same time the arrangement avoids the “'set of legal restrictions' that accompany such positions.”

In response, Ms. Trump opted instead to become an official, if unpaid, White House employee.

“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” Ms. Trump said in a statement on Wednesday, quoted by The New York Times.

“Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role,” she added.

As such, Ms. Trump will file the financial disclosure forms required for federal employees. According to her lawyer, Jamie S. Gorelick, she will also comply with and be bound by all ethics rules that apply to an employee in such a position.

Ms. Trump, whose husband has been serving as senior adviser to the president since his inauguration, has already held a fairly public role in her father’s administration, joining him in his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December and sitting beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the United States two weeks ago.

In order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, Ms. Trump had already transferred the management of her eponymous fashion label to the company president and stepped down from her leadership role in the Trump Organization.

While questions still remain about the potential nepotism in Mr. Trump’s leadership team, the Justice Department determined in January that the 1967 federal anti-nepotism law does not apply to the White House, in response to a challenge over Mr. Kushner’s appointment as senior adviser.