This Is Still Happening is a feature in which Slate will attempt to offer an update on Trump world corruption, what could be done to bring anyone to account, and what Democrats are doing in response (generally, nothing). The 12th installment is about the three Trump children who are most actively involved in his political grafting career.
The Figures: Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr.
What Is Still Happening: Trump’s three grown children from his first marriage—Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.—have been the ones most central to his efforts to loot the federal government and Republican Party for as much money as possible while he’s in office.
Let’s start with Ivanka, who is the only one of the three to hold a position in Trump’s administration, with the title “advisor to the president.” Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, is likewise a White House senior adviser, but that is a different, if related, story of graft. Ivanka’s role in the White House was initially sold to the public as serving as a moderating influence on her father, but that almost immediately went out the window when her alleged support for the United States remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement failed to convince her father not to abandon the historic deal. Similarly, Ivanka has said that she opposed separating families who were entering the country, but she did little to actually stop it from taking effect, resulting in the theft of thousands of children, hundreds of whose parents still haven’t been located.
Her false branding as a moderating force on her father, though, is not nearly as important as the area in which she excels perhaps as much as or more than the rest of her family: public graft. Some episodes worth highlighting:
• A little more than two months into her father’s presidency, she was awarded three new trademarks for her lifestyle brand in China on the same night she happened to sit next to Chinese President Xi Jinping during an official dinner at Mar-a-Lago. In 2018, she was awarded seven new trademarks that just happened to coincide with her father promising to save a Chinese telecommunications company that had previously been punished for violating trade sanctions with Iran and North Korea.
• Days into Trump’s presidency, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway illegally endorsed Ivanka’s fashion brand during a Fox News interview in violation of the Hatch Act. There were no repercussions.
• Ivanka herself has been party to dozens of Hatch Act violations, using her White House position to publicly campaign for her father, endorsing on Instagram a food product brand whose owner supports her father’s campaign by holding up a can of Goya beans, and seeming to violate the anti-corruption law eight times in one single 48-hour period earlier this month.
• Ivanka and her husband came into the White House with a sprawling series of international conflicts of interest, perhaps most notably in the Middle East, and her father had to overrule career officials to ensure they were granted security clearances that otherwise would have been denied.
• In May 2017, the State Department promoted Ivanka’s book on social media.
• As of last month, Ivanka and Jared had visited Trump properties during their time at the White House, with the accompanying Secret Service entourages and federal payments to the family business, more than any other White House officials had, with 36 visits for Ivanka and 39 for Jared. Ivanka’s stake in the Trump hotel in D.C. generated $4 million for her in 2019 alone.
• During this spring’s shelter-in-place policies that prevented families from hosting holidays together, Ivanka and Jared traveled to the Trump property in Bedminster, New Jersey, to hold a family Seder.
• Even after she announced she would shut down her lifestyle brand to avoid further conflicts of interest, it continued to generate upward of $1 million in sales for her and she continued to collect new overseas trademarks.
• In 2018 alone, Ivanka and Jared reported as much as $135 million in income, much of which came from foreign business.
• Jared and Ivanka likely broke the law when they pushed the administration to enact tax breaks for so-called opportunity zones, a program that happened to benefit the couple to the tune of millions of dollars.
• Ivanka and her husband last week threatened to sue the Lincoln Project to try to force it to take down Times Square billboards that were critical of their roles in her father’s disastrous COVID-19 response.
Given her and her husband’s White House jobs, Ivanka is probably the most prolific government grafter of the siblings. But the work of her brothers—who are putatively running the Trump Organization while their father is in the White House—in profiteering off their father’s presidency should not be overlooked. Here are some highlights of Eric and Donald Jr.’s ongoing activities:
• After promising at the start of their father’s term to do no “new” international business, the brothers have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in Secret Service fees to accompany them on international travel to hawk Trump licensing deals around the world. The short list of these destinations includes Uruguay, India, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, and Dubai.
• As reported by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Eric last year claimed that when administration members and Secret Service visit Trump properties, “they stay at our properties for free,” with only nominal housekeeping fees charged. This was false. Taxpayers pay as much as $650 per night for these stays, with the Washington Post reporting the Secret Service alone has spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money at Trump properties. On Tuesday, the Washington Post’s David Farenthold reported that the amount the government spent at Trump properties was even more than we knew, amounting to $2.5 million to the Trump family. At one dinner, Trump and his kids charged the “U.S. government $13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements.”
• The sons also use their father’s political career to boost the Trump family brand. In 2017, a Mumbai, India, complex was sold as an “an opportunity worth its weight in gold” to be associated with “POTUS.” When Donald Jr. visited India in 2018, he spoke at an event that also featured Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The New York Times further reported that Indonesia is “helping to build a major new highway that will make a new Trump development more accessible” after a launch event in Jakarta attended by Donald Jr. and numerous local government officials. The Times also reported that the Aberdeenshire Council in Scotland dropped local development requirements to allow the Trumps to build. And during Trump’s impeachment, Eric used House hearings as an opportunity to hawk Trump wine.
• Both Trump sons have used their heightened public platforms to attack Joe Biden’s son Hunter for profiting off his father’s name, without a hint of self-reflection. For instance, Eric Trump last year complained on Twitter about a supposed double standard being applied to Hunter Biden and less than five hours later posted on Twitter boasting of the local approval of a second golf course at a Trump property in Scotland.
• The sons also have an extraordinary gig going with the Republican Party. After initially lying about not making large bulk purchases of Don Jr.’s book Triggered, the RNC acknowledged that it had spent about $100,000 in early bulk sales to help pump the book onto the bestseller list. It pulled the same scam with his most recent book this summer. This year, meanwhile, the Trump campaign has paid both Eric’s wife and Don Jr.’s girlfriend annual salaries of $180,000 to support the president. The Post reports that since Inauguration Day in 2017, the Trump campaign and fundraising committee has spent $5.6 million at his own properties.
• Trump Jr., whose new political crew has been called the “wolf pack,” has also been active in lobbying his father’s administration for favors, suggesting Montana’s Ryan Zinke for interior secretary after a 2016 elk-hunting trip with Sen. Steve Daines. Zinke resigned after less than two years in office after proving to be one of the most corrupt officials in Trump’s incredibly corrupt administration.
• Last year, Donald Jr. spent $76,859.36 in taxpayer money for Secret Service protection on a trip with an RNC donor to Mongolia to hunt an endangered sheep that he did not have a permit to kill. CREW reports, “After the hunting excursion Trump met with the Mongolian President and was retroactively granted a permit to hunt the sheep he had already killed.”
How Long It Has Been Going On: Basically all of their lives. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Ivanka’s account of a lemonade stand she had as a kid, as reported by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias:
When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.”
As children, they literally shook down the help!
More recently, they may have committed a number of federal and state crimes prior to their father’s elevation to the White House. The Trump Organization is currently under investigation by state officials in New York, and Eric Trump recently gave a deposition over questions of fraud at the company. When the New York Times reported Trump’s tax returns last month, one of the most brazen apparent tax cheat schemes involved one of his companies secretly paying Ivanka to be a “consultant” while she was already collecting a separate salary as an employee there. Ivanka was also heavily involved in the organization’s most questionable licensing and property deals, including one in Azerbaijan that has been linked to apparent money laundering. Both Donald Jr. and Ivanka have also evaded previous run-ins with the law. Most famously, special counsel Robert Mueller refused to charge Donald Trump Jr. with crimes related to his infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Less famously, Don Jr. and Ivanka were under investigation in New York City in 2012 after they allegedly confessed in emails to fraudulently inflating the number of sales at a New York property to lure new investors. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance overruled office prosecutors to drop the inquiry after a meeting with their lawyer, who subsequently donated and helped raise more than $50,000 to Vance’s reelection campaign.
What Would Normally Happen: We need only look to what the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Finance Committee have been able to accomplish with their joint investigation of Hunter Biden’s alleged cronyism, which yielded more than 16,000 records from the State Department and many other documents. That investigation resulted in a report that concluded no wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens, but the State Department, the Trump Organization, and every part of the Trump White House have completely stonewalled similar Democratic probes with the help of the courts, so it’s tough to say what an inquiry into the Trump children might produce.
What Democrats Have Done: Donald Trump Jr. has had to give testimony in the various congressional Russia inquiries, with Democrats believing he may have misled one committee over his Trump Tower meeting to receive Russian dirt on Clinton. The House has been investigating payments to Trump properties. And New York’s Democratic attorney general has a fraud investigation into the Trump Organization underway. Ultimately, though, there has been little done to probe the many, many, many layers of Trump family corruption.
What Is Likely to Be Done: It might depend on the election results, but it seems likely that the Trump children will escape further scrutiny even if their father loses.
How Indictable This Stuff Is: It’s really hard to say, because these kids have kept getting out of legal jams. Thanks to their father’s money, fame, and political power, we may never get a full investigation of their possible criminal activity. In a world where Donald Trump’s clout has evaporated, though, odds seem to be that at least one of the three of them would end up in prison, for one of these many schemes. 5 out of 10.
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