Ivanka’s Bracelet Debacle—Was It Illegal?

The future first daughter is under fire for mixing business with politics

Ivanka Trump has used the presidential campaign—and more recently the office of the presidency—to promote products from her personal fashion lines, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry and her Ivanka Trump fashion collection. 

In July, she wore a dress from her own collection at the Republican National Convention, and the next day her brand released a tweet with a photo of her in the dress that read, “Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech,” with a link to buy “a similar style” at Macy’s.

The Style Alert from Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry

Most recently, during a Trump family appearance on 60 Minutes Monday night, Ivanka wore a gold bangle from her fine jewelry collection. A screenshot of the future first daughter from that appearance was included in a Style Alert email from Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, sent to fashion editors at newspapers, magazines, and websites. A link to buy the $10,800 bracelet was included. 

The company apologized for the incident, effectively acknowledging that it was inappropriate. And the Internet responded to the news divisively, as expected. 

But was the marketing maneuver—which saw the owner of a private company explicitly use the office of the presidency as a platform for financial gain—legal?

The short answer is “yes.”

But ethics violations are blurry business.

A government employee I talked to on condition of anonymity said that if his spouse were to promote a business through his office in the manner of Ivanka’s 60 Minutes promotion, he would most assuredly “be charged with an ethics violation.”

And certainly the president-elect will be bound to the ethical rules of his office. As the United States Office of Government Ethics has written, “The public may lose confidence in the integrity of Government if it perceives that an employee is using public office to serve a private interest, and it expects that Government information, property, and time (including the time of a subordinate) will be used to serve the public’s interests.”? 

But if Donald Trump’s children never become official government employees—and it’s looking like Ivanka won’t—they can legally market and promote any product they want, in any forum they choose.  

Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who also serves as a reporter on the Government Ethics project for the The American Law Institute, says individuals officially or unofficially on Donald Trump’s transition team are not subject to the government’s ethical standards and legalities.

“They can sit on boards and play an advisory role in all sorts of ways” without breaking any laws, he says. 

But Trump family members who actively promote products in governmental spheres risk political condemnation and public disapproval, at the very least. 

Personally, Painter thinks, “they should not have their nose under the tent with respect to the [administration] transition.” And he adds that the president-elect should “urge his family members to [pick business or politics].”

Should the Trump family’s businesses continue to conflate with the government, there’s potential for violations down the road, says Painter, including (but not limited to) accusations of bribery.

“They have to be careful,” he says. “At a certain point, it could become unacceptable.” 

JCK Magazine Editor

  • Jim Adair

    Jeez where was all this ethics reporting when Hillary was selling access to her office. Quite simply it’s marketing 101 and it was a perfect platform to showcase her jewelry line or dress. Why would it be better to wear some other line of jewelry or a dress by a different company? I believe the press has nothing better to do than try to find fault with Trump and his family since the last election proved they were in the tank for Hillary. If Ivanka wants to wear her jewelry from her line good for her. I don’t know of a designer who doesn’t.

  • Peggy Jo Donahue

    This was well done and very fairly written.

  • Lapidary Artist

    I doubt ethics is one of Trump’s fortes. This is more likely the beginning of a new norm…the ‘drain the swamp’ mentality whereby existing norms and protocols are turned upside down and ultimately Trump benefits to the exclusion of others. But that’s apparently what the people want.
    It’s a democratic duty of the people and the media to scrutinize their elected leaders and hopefully that will continue to be exercised rigorously without undue intervention by their leaders.

  • Paul

    I am happy to see a woman with the spotlight that Ivanka has on her wearing jewelry. Maybe it will assist in promoting jewelry and bring some sense of fashion back to our industry.

  • alx024

    how is she using the office of the presidency when her father is not president yet??