Ivanka Trump to become White House employee instead of informal adviser

Amber Jamieson and Paul Owen in New York
Ivanka Trump came under criticism after announcing that as the president’s adviser, she would get an office in the West Wing, government equipment and security clearances. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Following criticism from ethics experts, Ivanka Trump will become an official government employee, working as an unpaid adviser to her father in the White House, alongside her husband.

Last week the president’s daughter came under fire after announcing she would become an adviser without a specific title, but with an office in the West Wing, a government-issued phone and computer and security clearance to access classified information.

“While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees,” she said at the time.

Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W Bush between 2005 and 2007 and has frequently spoken out about the Trump family’s various ethical controversies, told the Guardian: “She has a West Wing office, she has equipment, she has a White House email address, she’s going to be doing policy work. For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, I believe she is a government employee.”

Now Ivanka Trump has responded to such criticism by taking on a formal role.

She said in a statement: “I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.”

Her lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the New York Times, which first reported the news, that Trump had changed her mind because of “her commitment to compliance with federal ethics standards and her openness to opposing points of view”.

The Times quoted a spokeswoman for Donald Trump as saying: “Ivanka’s service as an unpaid employee furthers our commitment to ethics, transparency and compliance and affords her increased opportunities to lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public that would not have been available to her previously.”

Painter told the Guardian on Wednesday: “I think she made the right decision because her lawyers told her what I’ve been saying all along ... that she is a government employee.”

He added: “And I think she understands that and I think she told the White House, ‘Stop screwing around and playing games’ and let her be an employee.”

Referring to conflict of interest statutes, he said: “I’m glad they sorted this out, because the last thing we need is the president’s daughter committing a crime that could be a felony.”

The role of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, another of Donald Trump’s informal advisers, needed to be similarly formalised, Painter said.

Several attorneys and government watchdog leaders last week wrote a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn asking him to reconsider his approval of Ivanka Trump serving her father without becoming an official government employee.

Norman Eisen, who was Barack Obama’s ethics counselor, was among those who signed the letter. He said that “for a change in what has largely been an ethics disaster, the White House came to their senses. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be an isolated moment of sanity.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of the government watchdog group Democracy 21 and a co-writer of the letter to McGahn, said he commended Ivanka Trump for formalizing her status. “Democracy 21 praises Ms Trump for her decision, which recognizes that it would have been wrong for her to function as a White House employee and not be subject to the same rules that apply to other White House employees,” he said in a statement.

There is no precedent for someone whose father is president to work in the White House, although two presidents – Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan – had their nieces serve in the role of first lady since Jackson was a widower and Buchanan a bachelor.

Ivanka Trump has handed control over the day-to-day running of her eponymous clothing business to an executive and its assets are maintained by a trust managed by two of her husband’s siblings.

As part of the trust rules, outlined in the New York Times, Trump can veto any potential business deals for her clothing company that might create a conflict with her political work – meaning she will continue to know about any new deals.

Trump’s marriage to her father’s senior adviser, the real estate developer Jared Kushner, poses additional potential problems, because both could benefit financially from each other’s businesses.

Kushner was appointed to an additional role this week at the helm of Donald Trump’s White House Office of American Innovation, which is designed to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector.

The same day it was revealed that Kushner would testify before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last year’s election. Kushner’s offer to appear before the Senate panel stems from his meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US whose contacts with former national security adviser Michael Flynn led to the latter’s resignation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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