News & Politics

It Sure Seems Like the Trumps Are Trying to Use the Presidency to Help Their Businesses

The President is angry that Nordstrom dumped Ivanka Trump's fashion brand.

Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

President Trump dropped yet another bit of evidence that he sees the White House as a vehicle to enrich himself and his family with an angry tweet directed at Nordstrom, the department store which last week announced it will no longer sell his daughter Ivanka Trump‘s fashion line.

That Trump would take Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s personal brand as a personal slight is not surprising—he’s always stewing about something—but it does extend the appearance that he does not care about blurring the lines between the Trump Organization and the government he now leads. Ivanka Trump is not just the president’s oldest daughter, she’s also one of his closest advisers, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, who is working as an unpaid senior aide to the President. Even though she has no official capacity in the White House, Ivanka Trump has been a regular presence in the West Wing. She participated in a meeting last week with chief executives from large manufacturers and on Wednesday is due to meet with former Secretary of State James Baker about climate policy, along with Vice President Mike Pence and sworn-in aides including her husband and Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council. And when she’s not attending high-level policy meetings, she might fire off the occasional Instagram photo from some White House hallway.

Officially, Nordstrom says it dropped the Ivanka Trump brand because of lagging sales. But as my colleague Hayley Garrison Phillips wrote last week, the timing of the decision also suggests Ivanka’s fashion line is a casualty of her father’s young presidency. Nordstrom was high on a list of companies targeted by an online campaign urging boycotts of stores that stock Trump-branded merchandise, and members of the Nordstrom family recently sent a pro-immigration memo to their employees.

President Trump shouldn’t be expected to cut himself off from his family, but without any kind of official status in the White House, it’s impossible to see Ivanka Trump as anything other than the liaison between the government and the Trump Organization. For all of the discomfort brought by Kushner having a desk down the hall from the Oval Office, he at least took an oath swearing to uphold the Constitution. Ivanka Trump, despite sharing much of the same schedule, has no such accountability. Before the inauguration, ethics experts that an anti-nepotism statute could stop President Trump from appointing family members to government posts, but existing case law makes an exception for White House roles. So far, Kushner has taken one; Ivanka Trump hasn’t, but she’s acting the part. And as for whether Ivanka Trump is, per her father’s tweet, always pushing him to do the right thing, the results of those efforts are scant.

Instead, the closest thing Ivanka Trump has to an official status still comes from her business ties. While she’s stepped down from her day-to-day roles at the Trump Organization and her fashion brand, and is taking fixed payments instead of profits, she’s still has a stake in a company that is trying to expand. Membership fees at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida getaway—which now functions as a “Winter White House,” in the President’s own words—have doubled; Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have announced plans to grow the hotel chain as they take over the Trump Organization; and there’s still the big question over whether President Trump is violating his lease with the government for the Old Post Office.

The potential for connecting the presidency to personal profit extends to First Lady Melania Trump, as well. While she settled her defamation lawsuit with a Maryland blogger earlier this week, her latest litigation against the Daily Mail claims that reports on tabloid allegations about her modeling career ruined a “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity” to use her First-Lady status as a springboard for a personal fashion and cosmetics brand.

All of this taken together makes the President’s ire at Nordstrom disingenuous at best; at worst, it reads like he’s trying to use his office to pressure a corporation into taking actions that benefit his family. In either case, it will live on in posterity when the National Archives catalogs the Trump administration’s documents now that the official @POTUS account has retweeted it.

UPDATE: In case the tweeting wasn’t enough, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during Wednesday’s briefing that Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s brand constituted a “direct attack” on her name and her father’s policies.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.