New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist and contributor to Esquire and Huffington Post Highline magazine.
Are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner personally profiting from their official roles in the White House? According to the Associated Press, Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademarks in China the very same day she and her father, President Trump, had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The China trademarks give her company the exclusive rights to sell Ivanka-branded jewelry, bags and spa services in China. The New York Times reports Japan also approved new trademarks for Ivanka for branded shoes, handbags and clothing in February, and she has trademark applications pending in at least 10 other countries. Ivanka no longer manages her $50 million company, but she continues to own it. Ivanka also serves in the Trump administration as an adviser to the president. So does her husband, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. For more, we speak with
Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist and contributor to Esquire and Huffington Post Highline magazine.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Associated Press is reporting Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademarks in China the very same day she and her father, President Trump, had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The China trademarks give her company the exclusive rights to sell Ivanka-branded jewelry, bags and spa services in China. The New York Times reports Japan also approved new trademarks for Ivanka for branded shoes, handbags and clothing in February, and she has trademark applications pending in at least 10 other countries. Ivanka no longer manages her $50 million company, but she continues to own it. Ivanka also serves in the Trump administration as an adviser to the president. So does her husband, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Earlier this month in an interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, Ivanka Trump talked about potential conflicts of interest.
GAYLE KING: When we talk about the Ivanka Trump brand, you are no longer running the day-to-day.
IVANKA TRUMP: No, I’m no longer—
GAYLE KING: What have you done with your business?
IVANKA TRUMP: I have no involvement with any of it. And I felt like proximity to my father and to the White House and with my husband taking such an influential role in the administration, I didn’t want to also be running a business. So, I put it into trust. I have independent trustees. I have no involvement in its management, in its oversight, in its strategic decision-making.
GAYLE KING: But the trustees are family members, right? Your brother-in-law and your sister-in-law?
IVANKA TRUMP: They are.
GAYLE KING: So, from a—
IVANKA TRUMP: But they’re completely independent, and I’m transparent about that.
GAYLE KING: Can you see, from the public point of view—yes, you put it in trust, but it’s family members—they’re thinking, "Well, is she really not involved?" Do you really not get on the phone and say, "What’s going on?" Do you have no involvement whatsoever?
IVANKA TRUMP: I take—I take a legal document very seriously, and I wouldn’t go through the pains of setting this up, if I intended to violate it.
AMY GOODMAN: The AP says sales of Ivanka Trump’s merchandise have surged since her father was elected president.
To talk more about this, we’re joined by Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist, contributor to Esquire and the Huffington Post Highline magazine.
Vicky Ward, welcome to Democracy Now!
VICKY WARD: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s go back to this moment, that became very famous, of course, the president of China, Xi Jinping, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, seated at the dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Next to them, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: That same day, she got three exclusive trademarks from China to sell her merchandise?
VICKY WARD: Right. Well, I mean, it—you know, it speaks for itself. I mean, I wish I could tell you I was surprised, but I’m really not. I’m doing a lot of reporting—I’m spending half my time in D.C. these days—actually looking at this subject of the commercialization of the White House in real time, which I think is a narrative that has been slightly drowned out because of the theater and chaos of the last 80 days. And, you know, we’ve all been so consumed with the fight between the Kushner camp and the Bannon camp that this very real kind of story of horrifying kleptocracy, you know, that’s never happened to this country before—and, you know, the White House is turning into the Kushner piggy bank and the Trump piggy bank. I mean, and it’s outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what she’s saying. She’s saying, "Oh, no. It’s in a trust." But—
VICKY WARD: Oh, please. So, it’s in a—right, first of all, the Trumps and the Kushners are real estate—
AMY GOODMAN: Tycoons.
VICKY WARD: —families and business. You know, these real estate developers are—and I wrote a book about the New York real estate world, so it’s something I’m very familiar with—they are family businesses. So, it is in a trust run by Jared Kushner’s brother, Josh. OK, so just to show you how closely everything is entwined, not only is Jared an investor in Josh, Josh is an investor in Jared. Josh’s healthcare business, Oscar, is in Jared’s building, the Puck Building. So, you know, they—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait. You have to explain it.
VICKY WARD: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a self insurance company here in New York that people buy.
VICKY WARD: Right. So, he, Josh Kushner, is a very successful venture capitalist, who also started a healthcare business, Oscar, predicated on Obamacare. And its current valuation is $2.7 billion. Now, interestingly, Peter Thiel, who’s part of the sort of, you know, Kushner new businessmen, you know, the new brigade, you know, the sort of—
AMY GOODMAN: Billionaire supporter of President Trump.
VICKY WARD: The sort of—yeah, the businessman, exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Spoke at the RNC.
VICKY WARD: Exactly, the crony capitalism going on inside of there. He, I think, put in—bought out the—went in and took out the entire second round of Oscar, so he’s right in there. But there is no question. I mean, the Kushners are even more of a tight-knit family than—
AMY GOODMAN: Is that the reason why Jared Kushner was not there for the week of the negotiations around "repeal and replace," that he was in Aspen?
VICKY WARD: Well, I think you have to ask that question. In fact, it’s sort of—no one pointed it out. And, by the way, nor was Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, who are both part of the Kushner army, you know. And a lot of people were raising eyebrows. Most people, when they go to work for a White House, don’t decide to swan off on holiday during the president’s first hundred days.
AMY GOODMAN: Or the most—the most pivotal week he has had so far.
VICKY WARD: Right, his first—so, you know, Jared Kushner’s self-interest, I think, is a huge—and Ivanka’s self-interest has sort of been ignored. I mean, it’s been covered, but it’s been overcome by the noise of the other stories. But I think, increasingly now, we’re going to see it really, really matter, because it is just a story of plain, outright corruption, and it’s not legal.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in addition to the three trademarks that Ivanka Trump was granted with China, last year China granted preliminary approval for 38 trademarks protecting Trump’s name. So explain why this issue of trademarks is relevant and what kinds of regulations apply to Ivanka and Kushner relative to compared to what apply to Trump, President Trump.
VICKY WARD: Well, so, you know, he is protected by a conflicts clause, isn’t he? There’s some clause that he can hide behind. They are not supposed to do—if they’re working in the White House, to do anything that might leverage their position there for their own commercial gain. So, I would ask you—I have sources covering this every day, who say, "Well, let’s look at Ivanka." What is she doing policy-wise? Nothing. But what she is doing is wearing clothes. She’s in a—she’s in a business that sells clothes, shoes. That’s what she does. So, what she’s doing every day is using—you know, they’re very good at public relations, Jared and Ivanka. They’ve just hired a Hollywood public relations person. I know from personal experience, having reported on them, having reported on Jared, all the leaks I—you know, every time you see a person close to Jared, that is Jared talking.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I can hear the headlines here.
VICKY WARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, you accused her of wearing clothes. But, I mean, I think—
VICKY WARD: No.
AMY GOODMAN: —what you’re talking about is in the—for example—
VICKY WARD: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —on the Sunday night show on—when she went on and—on 60 Minutes—
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —wearing a bracelet, and the next day showing that in her 60 Minutes interview—
VICKY WARD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —and saying, "You can buy this for $10,000."
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But also, she owns her company, even if it’s in a trust, right?
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: She will profit from its—
VICKY WARD: So, to your part about the trademarks, so you have—I mean, there she is charming the Chinese premier, and suddenly, oh, great, you know, great for business for Ivanka Trump in China. I think it was also reported, the Philippines, you know, she’s got trademarks there. I’ve met Robbie Antonio, the real estate developer who facilitated that. And the first time I met Robbie Antonio, all he could talk to me about—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who he is.
VICKY WARD: He’s this—they call him the Trump—his family, the Trumps of the Philippines. And all he could talk to me about—this was before Trump ran for president—was, you know, he’d just come off the golf course with Donald Trump. And, I mean, they’re all in awe of this family.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have—
VICKY WARD: And lo and behold, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the scandal this week, but this goes to Donald Trump, where he calls Erdogan—
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —the president of Turkey, to congratulate him on winning this referendum that leads to—
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —a dictatorship of Erdogan—
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —at the same time that you have him last year being interviewed by Steve Bannon on Breitbart radio, saying he has a conflict of interest because he has two towers in Istanbul.
VICKY WARD: Correct. I mean, it goes on and on and on. The question is, you know, why is—sort of why are we all sitting here talking about it, and nothing being done? And perhaps, you know, time—time will tell. I mean, one thing that I’ve thought about is, for example, Jared Kushner has talked about, you know, bringing in this council of innovators. Now, it’s just not possible, in a council of innovators—it may not be a bad idea, by the way, but it’s not possible that a venture capitalist brother is going to not benefit from that. And—
AMY GOODMAN: So what are the laws? You said this is illegal.
VICKY WARD: Well, he’s not the—Jared Kushner is not supposed to benefit from his position in the White House. So, but for something to be done about it, I would suspect, in the same way with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, if you go back and sort of study that, it takes time, and it takes a smoking gun to—it takes a real smoking gun. Quite interesting—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What would constitute a smoking gun?
VICKY WARD: Well, so, quite interesting—well, who knows, for example, during the transition—and this is pure speculation—who knows what Jared was talking—we know he was talking to the Russians. We know he was talking to the Russia—Russian bank, you know, that’s backed by the government. He very quickly volunteered to testify—which means, by the way, he doesn’t have to testify under oath—and explain what those conversations were about. He was certainly, during that time, according to all my sources in the real estate world, talking to the Chinese, because he has got a real problem with his building 666 Fifth Avenue. And Anbang, this Chinese insurance company, which has very close ties to the Chinese government, until a few weeks ago, were rumored to be paying a price that, I can tell you, every—people I know who are very close to that deal were saying, was at least a billion dollars too high. Why does a Chinese company close to the government want to pay over a billion dollars too much for a building that’s got—that’s got real—you know, it has got real problems, actually, due to Jared’s plans for it? You know, he wants to—and right now the market is not in his favor. And I think even the Kushners saw the conflicts. And kind of that story has disappeared, but not for long, because the only people who are going to come in, most likely, and invest in that building are foreign buyers.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have The New York Times reporting Japan also approved new trademarks for Ivanka for branded shoes, handbags, clothing in February. She has trademark applications pending in over the 10 other countries. But Japan very significant with Shinzo Abe here, and she was with him—
VICKY WARD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —almost as much, it looked like, at least, the public views, as President Trump.
VICKY WARD: Right. But I think what we have—I mean, one of the things—obviously, you can hear I wasn’t born here. Believe it or not, German is my second language. And I actually know people very close to Angela Merkel. So, my takeaway from what they’ve told me is that Ivanka did not contribute very much to—I mean, the photo looked nice, her sitting next to Angela Merkel, but I don’t think that the chancellor came away thinking she contributed much on policy. And, you know, I hear the same—you know, I’m also working on a magazine story about foreign policy. You know, when people sit in—people who actually know what they’re talking about, who spent years studying the Middle East, spent—they then listen to what Jared has to say on foreign policy, they all just sort of want to cry.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
VICKY WARD: Because he knows nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s now his portfolio.
VICKY WARD: He knows absolutely nothing. But, so, what I would say is that—so I think the self—what are these two people actually in there to do? Their only experience is working for their parents. That’s it. So, what, if it’s not—it seems to me it’s all about self-interest. They’re not—they’re not qualified to do anything else.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist, contributor to Esquire and The Huffington Post.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Anand Gopal joins us. He’s recently back from Iraq. We’ll talk about Iraq and Syria. Stay with us.