President Donald Trump is not the first businessman to enter politics, but he is certainly the first US president to have connections to a series of family business that raise such complicated and unique ethical questions.
The Trumps’ potential conflicts of interest came under scrutiny again Saturday morning, as questions were raised about the First Lady Melania Trump's official biography on the White House website. Ms. Trump’s biography starts with traditional details, such as information about her birth, upbringing, and background. But when describing Ms. Trump's professional accomplishments, the biography also mentioned the name of the jewelry line she started, along with a lengthy list of other brands, magazines, television shows, and commercials that the first lady worked for as a model.
“Melania is also a successful entrepreneur. In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection, ‘Melania™ Timepieces & Jewelry,’ on QVC,” the original passage said, according to The Washington Post.
A spokesperson for Ms. Trump told the Post that the reference was intended to be a factual statement, not an endorsement.
Yet, to fend off further criticism, the White House soon updated the paragraph and eliminated the brand’s name “out of an abundance of caution.”
“Melania is also a successful entrepreneur. In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection,” the site now says.
QVC, an American broadcast home sale network, confirmed carrying the jewelry line once but said they no longer do.
Considering the scale and scope of President Trump’s business network, the information about his professional accomplishments on his own official White House biography is surprisingly sparse.
As The Christian Science Monitor previously noted, Trump faces unique conflict-of-interest questions:
“A quick look at numbers shows the scale of the problem. Donald Trump has at least 500 businesses – hotels, casinos, golf courses and brand deals stretching from Azerbaijan to Ireland. He’s borrowed a lot to amass this empire, and currently owes banks and other lenders an estimated $650 million. Like many tycoons he’s involved in litigation: he just settled a big fraud case against Trump University, but he still has at least 74 lawsuits wending their way through the courts.”
But instead of listing even some of the 500 major business entities in the Trump Organization, which ranges from real estate to golf courses to wineries, the biography focuses mostly on celebrating Trump's surprising success in the 2016 presidential election.
The changes to Ms. Trump's White House biography comes at a moment when ethical questions about conflicts of interest are being raised not just about the President, but other family members as well, including daughter Ivanka.
Despite having been an important female spokesperson for her father on the campaign trail, Ivanka Trump drew much criticism when she sat through her father's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and also took fire when her brand promoted the $10,000 bracelet she wore at the Trump family interview with CBS's “60 Minutes.”
Though not taking on an official position within the Trump White House, Ivanka Trump announced in January in a Facebook post that she has stepped down from her roles at her eponymous fashion line and the Trump Organization, and has also separated her own social media accounts from those of her brands.
“As a private citizen, with full awareness of her heightened visibility, [Ivanka Trump] will broaden her efforts to take a stance on issues of critical importance to American women and families,” the company’s statement said.
Yet some critics still question how effective such separation will be.
“Every time she is pictured in an Ivanka Trump outfit, it is bound to give a boost to the Ivanka Trump brand, whether or not they are technically linked,” fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote for The New York Times. “A scenario in which Ivanka Trump the brand removes Ms. Trump utterly from its identity is hard to imagine.”