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.” 

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JCK Senior Editor

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