Ivanka Trump's starring role on Asia trip 'surreal' to Democratic lawmakers

Democrats on Tuesday continued to criticize Ivanka Trump and the White House for what they said was her improper place as a part of U.S. delegations at the G20 summit in Japan and on the administration's subsequent trip to the North Korea-South Korea border.

White House dismisses 'haters' who questioned her presence in high-powered U.S. delegations

Ivanka Trump speaks to military personnel and their families stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea on Sunday, with U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the background. (Ed Jones/The Associated Press)

Democrats on Tuesday continued to criticize Ivanka Trump and the White House for what they said was her improper place as a part of U.S. delegations at the G20 summit in Japan and on the administration's subsequent trip to the North Korea-South Korea border.

In a sign of how far she's come from a summit in Germany in April 2017 — when she said she was "rather unfamiliar" with how to proceed as daughter of a U.S. president as well as his unpaid senior adviser —  Trump was omnipresent in Asia.

She was never far from the centre of dealings in Osaka between the U.S. and Asia's heavyweight leaders, be it Chinese President Xi Jinping, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan's PM Shinzo Abe. She was within conversational distance of an impromptu sit-down between the U.S. president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the South Korean side of the border. 

Ivanka Trump's presence on the outside of a G20 conversation circle with Western leaders caught fire on the internet.

Trump is seen awkwardly trying to work her way into a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, International Monetary Fund chairwoman Christine Lagarde and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Her brief comments appear to be met with silence and a side-eyed glance from Lagarde.

Using the #UnwantedIvanka hashtag, social media users then Photoshopped her image into a whole host of historical or fictional scenes, from the Last Supper to the flag-raising on Iwo Jima during the Second World War.

At a minimum, critics charged, the credibility of the U.S. government was at stake by Trump taking a spot over a senior State Department or national security employee. 

Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York questioned why the administration couldn't have brought a "qualified diplomat," while congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, also a Democrat, wondered what the reaction would have been from the opposite side of the aisle had a similar scenario been played out in a Democratic administration.

Ivanka Trump, right, turns back to look at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G20 summit event on women's empowerment in Osaka on Saturday. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

"What would the Republicans be saying if Malia [Obama] was hobnobbing with the G20? Ivanka is a VOLUNTEER in the White House," said Speier. "What gives her ANY credentials to be there?"

Security issues, conflict-of-interest potential

Ivanka Trump's presence in Asia renewed concerns about security clearances.

She was there as the U.S. delegation communicated about two of the most sensitive international issues the administration is dealing with: trade and digital security disputes with China, and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea. 

She called the North Korea experience "surreal" — the same word used by Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton to describe her presence at the DMZ.

There have been ongoing questions over how security clearances were obtained for Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, with reports in the New York Times and other U.S. outlets earlier this year alleging that President Donald Trump overruled senior officials who raised concerns.

The most vociferous opponents to the clearances, according to reports, were chief of staff John Kelly and White House attorney Don McGahn. Both men have left in the carousel of White House staffing turnover, and a number of cabinet posts are currently filled by "acting" members, as opposed to confirmed appointments, perhaps making it less likely anyone with authority would be inclined to question the roles and influence of Ivanka Trump and Kushner.

During the G20, Don Beyer, Democratic congressman from Virginia, raised the spectre of a "security issue" in one post, and re-posted a thread from last year in which he criticized the response of the White House over what he said were legitimate questions about her role.

"The few responses which she and the White House have given mostly turned out to be lies," Beyer has said.

The White House frequently featured the president's daughter in social media posts from Osaka, and on Monday it expressed disappointment at the criticism over her presence in Asia.

"It is sad but not shocking that the haters choose to attack Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to the president, when she is promoting U.S. efforts to empower women through strategic partnerships with world leaders," said Jessica Ditto, White House deputy communications director.

Republican lawmakers have refrained from commenting publicly on her presence in Asia. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted on Sunday that Ivanka Trump "[makes] the U.S. stronger on the global stage."

In addition to the possibility of hearing classified information, in the case of China there were potentially also conflict-of-interest issues. Trump has received numerous trademarks for the Chinese market for an assortment of products stemming from her retail empire, which she owns but placed in trust in 2017.

Emails, partisan points questioned

The blurring of the lines is of no apparent concern to the president, who in recent months has floated her name for consideration to lead the World Bank, an organization that's contributed to Ivanka Trump's most significant endeavour, the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).

Ivanka Trump has come under fire on a number of other fronts. Along with her siblings and father, she is named in a lawsuit in New York over improprieties involving the Trump Foundation, which was forced to dissolve.

Ivanka Trump with her father, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, at the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In D.C., she has been flagged her for potential Hatch Act violations for using her government Twitter account to retweet "multiple partisan political posts," while a Democratic-led House committee has alleged she's used her personal email to conduct government business.

In the report of the special counsel that investigated contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, Ivanka Trump is mentioned in connection with communications about a proposed Trump construction project in Moscow, which the New York real estate tycoon was exploring farther into his campaign for president than had been previously known.

She was also present, albeit briefly, at a controversial 2016 meeting with Russians who promised dirt on campaign rival Hillary Clinton, and, according to the special counsel report, was part of some conversations at the White House a year later that sought to minimize the political fallout from that particular meeting.

What does she do?

Ivanka Trump in 2017 said she was "defining the ways in which I think that I'll be able to have impact."

She has filled a ceremonial role as a U.S. representative at events like the 2018 Winter Olympics and the inauguration later that year for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

With respect to policy issues, the Washington media has tried to ascertain her views when they're not clearly stated. Multiple media reports had her unsuccessfully trying to convince her father to stay the course with the Paris agreement on climate change. As well, in late 2018 she told a U.S. media outlet she was "very vehemently against family separation and the separation of parents and children" when it came to the processing of migrants making asylum claims at the southern border.

She's been more direct on a few domestic and global issues, pushing for policies to improve the lot of working American women, like extending child care tax credits and increasing parental leave.

Most substantively, her impact has been felt with We-Fi, a loan program for women in developing countries which Trump has championed. The U.S. has ponied up tens of millions of dollars for the endeavour, with Canada contributing $20 million, though CNN reported she will play no "operational, administrative or fund-raising role" in the program. 

It should be noted that Lagarde — she of the apparent side eye — pronounced herself pleased to participate with Trump, among others at a G-20 summit on women's empowerment.

About the Author

Chris Iorfida

Senior Writer

Chris Iorfida has worked in TV news, radio, print and digital in his journalism career. He has been with CBC since 2002 and written on subjects as diverse as politics, business, health, sports, arts and entertainment, science and technology.

With files from The Associated Press


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