On Sunday, Hunter Biden announced through his lawyer that he will step down from his position with a Chinese-backed private equity firm to avoid further controversy during his father's presidential run. This news comes on the heels of GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of President Donald Trump’s chief defenders, publicly inviting Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to detail “corruption in Ukraine,” corruption that allegedly includes former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
This is not the first time Graham has called for an investigation into the subject. In late September on Fox News, the South Carolina senator declared there needs to be an investigation into “whether or not there was a conflict of interest” when Joe Biden called on Ukraine’s chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin to be fired. The prosecutor had at one time been investigating a company where Biden’s son Hunter also served on the board. (Yuriy Lutsenko, the Ukrainian prosecutor who took over the case after Shokin was sacked, has said there was no evidence of misconduct.) Graham, in that same Fox News appearance, also called for an inquiry into whether Hunter Biden’s dealings with China while his father was vice president were on “the up-and-up.”
Clearly, Graham is very concerned with possible “conflicts of interest” involving the child of a former vice president several years ago. Meanwhile, another famous child who is still very much entrenched in Washington, D.C., is embroiled in potential conflicts of interest as we speak. That child is none other than Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president.
Clearly, Graham is very concerned with possible “conflicts of interest” involving the child of a former vice president several years ago.
The first daughter’s actions have more than raised eyebrows, they have also resulted in complaints filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, which has repeatedly called for formal investigations into whether her actions violated federal law. Much of the conflict arises from Ivanka Trump’s fashion company, which she stopped officially running in 2017 and formally shut down in 2018 — but not before reaping millions of dollars in profit.
Just four months into her father’s administration, Ivanka Trump dined with the president and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. On that very day, she was granted preliminary approval for three new trademarks covering jewelry, bags and spa services for her company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC. Coincidence? Conversely, was the Chinese leader concerned it would hurt relations if his government said no to his counterpart’s daughter? In fact, Democratic presidential hopeful and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, sensing a potential for abuse, raised Ivanka Trump’s potential financial conflicts of interest in a letter to the Office of Government Ethics a month before that dinner requesting information on the ethical rules Ivanka will be required to comply with given her position in the White House.
Since then, Ivanka Trump’s actions have continued to be troubling, at the very least, when it comes to mixing personal business with her position in the White House. For example, in May 2018, questions were again raised when her father’s actions seemed to coincide with favorable business outcomes for her holdings. As Trump announced a deal to lift a ban on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE from buying American goods, the Chinese government announced it had granted Ivanka Trump’s company seven new trademarks. At the time, CREW released a statement raising alarm bells about “the potential conflicts her business interests present,” noting that “although Ivanka has stepped down from her role at her business and has placed it in a trust, she continues to receive profits from the business.”
In June 2018, Ivanka Trump’s company also received approval from Japan for two trademarks. But CREW noted the trademark approval alarmingly happened “around the time of Vice President Mike Pence’s February visit to Japan and meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.” Another coincidence? Or did Japan, which entered into a new trade deal with the United States just this week, grant these approvals as a way to engender goodwill with Trump?
And while Ivanka Trump announced in July 2018 plans to close her fashion brand, her company received approval for 34 new trademarks from 2018 to early 2019, covering a wide range of items and services, from child care centers and sunglasses to voting machines. Ivanka Trump would be able to benefit from these trademarks if she starts her company back up again, which of course she could do at any time.
Beyond these possible conflicts, CREW has filed two formal complaints alleging Ivanka Trump’s conduct has violated federal law on two recent occasions. In January 2019, CREW asserted that she “appears to have violated federal conflict of interest law” that prohibit “an executive branch employee from participating ‘personally and substantially’” in any matter that the employee or spouse can financially benefit. It alleges Ivanka Trump “participated in the Trump administration’s implementation of a new tax law authorizing the Opportunity Zones program” despite the fact that her husband, Jared Kushner, “held significant financial interests in an entity benefiting from that program.”
The CREW complaint called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether Ivanka Trump “violated the primary federal conflict of interest law, 18 U.S.C. § 208.” The DOJ did not comment at the time, but a spokesperson for Ivanka slammed the complaint as being “politically motivated and meritless.”
In June, CREW filed another complaint, this time alleging Ivanka Trump had possibly violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on the job. CREW called on the DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel to investigate whether Ivanka had used her social media account — she utilizes for official business — to help her father’s re-election campaign.
CREW explained that this behavior was made all the more troubling since it occurred shortly after the Office of Special Counsel called for fellow White House aide Kellyanne Conway to be fired for breaking the very same law. As CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder stated at the time, “Ivanka Trump has basically thumbed her nose… at the rule of law.”
Overall, if Lindsey Graham or others in Congress want to investigate potential conflicts of interest involving children of elected officials, they don’t have to go back several years and several thousands of miles to find potential misconduct. Instead, Congress should start by investigating the actions of Ivanka Trump that occurred on their watch, and very close to home.
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