LONDON — Ivanka Trump calls her father a homebody. “If it were up to him, he’d seldom leave New York,” she once wrote.
By contrast, she has been her family’s leading globalist — doing deals around the world in her father’s name and her own. Even since her father took office, her own fashion brand has continued to look abroad, filing four new trademarks in Canada and the Philippines, according to a New York Times analysis of trademark records.
The continued activity is tricky territory for Trump’s new job as White House adviser. While she has stepped down from both her own fashion company and from the Trump Organization and put her brand in a trust, she has not given up her financial control, an unusual situation to navigate now that she is subject to federal ethics rules on conflicts of interest.
Even though many of her trademark applications were filed long before she took her government job, they could be decided on by foreign governments while she works in the White House, creating ethical issues with little precedent. While trademarks do not directly confer financial gains, they protect the use of logos and other intellectual property, making them valuable tools for companies looking to build new ventures or expand existing operations.
Trump has long been conducting a corporate two-step, trying to build her own global brand as she has helped push her father’s name into new parts of the world. Overall, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, her trademarking business, has filed 173 foreign trademarks in 21 countries, as well as in Hong Kong and the European Union, in little more than a decade, according to the Times analysis. There are probably more, since there is no single repository of all global trademarks. All of the applications on record took place before she was a White House adviser.
Trump’s previous role as an informal adviser to President Trump had already raised questions. She is a woman with a multitude of overseas business ventures who since the election has been afforded prime seating at meetings with a who’s who of foreign leaders — from Justin Trudeau to Shinzo Abe to Angela Merkel.
Now such issues become more complex. While presidents are exempt from federal conflict of interest law, Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, another senior White House aide, are not. They are barred from making decisions in government that could benefit their financial holdings, which are worth as much as $740 million, according to recent filings. They are also covered by the Constitution’s emoluments clause barring federal officials from accepting “any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state.”
Whether trademarks run afoul of such rules is a matter of debate between the Trump administration and its critics. Trademarks are certainly valuable assets as companies seek exclusive control over their global brands, and Trump herself has said that the first step in building a brand is to “do a comprehensive trademark search.”
Trump has taken steps to separate herself from her company. Her brother-in-law and sister-in-law serve as trustees, while Abigail Klem, her brand’s president, runs the company’s day-to-day operations.
But she has kept her financial interest in the company, and retains the ability to approve or veto certain deals through her trust arrangement. Trump also maintains a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just down the street from the White House.
“When they weren’t going into the White House, I thought there was a lot of leeway there,” said John Pudner, the executive director of the conservative nonprofit Take Back Our Republic. Now, he said, “anything can be viewed as influence.”
“I think it’s bad for the administration,” added Pudner, who voted for Donald Trump. “It could call into question any decision made, people wondering if there’s a business angle to it.”
The White House referred comments to the Trump Organization, which did not comment.
Klem, president of Ivanka Trump’s brand, said in a statement, “The brand has filed, updated and rigorously protected its international trademarks over the past several years in the normal course of business, especially in regions where trademark infringement is rampant.
Ivanka Trump isa woman witha multitude of overseas business ventures.
“We have recently seen a surge in trademark filings by unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name, and it is our responsibility to diligently protect our trademark.”
It is not clear how Trump, now a federal employee, will navigate continuing ties to far-flung foreign business interests. Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a left-leaning watchdog group, said that if Trump’s brand was trying to expand operations or import from other countries, there could be “meaningful interaction” with foreign governments. Foreign companies, too, might also try to cut special deals with the brand to curry favor with the Trump administration, Weissman added.
“Then you get into the issue about improper influence,” he said.
Jamie Gorelick, a Washington ethics lawyer who is acting as an independent adviser to Trump’s trust, said in a statement that since Trump had resigned from her company, she “has had no involvement with trademark applications submitted by the business.”
“The federal ethics rules do not require you to recuse from any matter concerning a foreign country just because a business that you have an ownership interest in has a trademark application pending there,” she added. “Ivanka will recuse from particular matters where she has a conflict of interest or where the White House counsel determines her participation would present appearance or impartiality concerns.”