In the nearly six years since Donald Trump started his first campaign for the presidency, many Americans have woken up in a country that was, in one way or another, unfamiliar to them.
They watched as a president of the United States shattered longstanding norms of civility; ignored decades-old prohibitions on nepotism; enriched himself by bending or breaking laws meant to set an ethical baseline for how the head of state should act; and stretched the boundaries of American democracy almost to their breaking point.
But this week, it was his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, who woke up in an unfamiliar country.
Ivanka Trump – who, despite no qualifications or relevant experience, spent four years as a senior White House aide with the prestigious and sought-after title of assistant to the President – was largely insulated from the upheavals and controversies generated by her father’s presidency. She and her husband Jared Kushner – another beneficiary of Donald’s penchant for nepotism – have spent the year since Donald slinked out of Washington establishing themselves in the new GOP mecca of Florida. There, Kushner appears to be using the Middle East connections he made during his White House years to bootstrap a new investment fund.
That quiet existence, however, has now been shattered by something wholly unfamiliar to the entire Trump brood since their patriarch stormed onto the scene as a candidate for office: consequences.
Ivanka’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week of accountability began this week. Late on Tuesday, New York State attorney-general Letitia James filed a motion to compel the erstwhile first daughter to appear for a sworn deposition in the long-running investigation into her father’s eponymous real estate business.
The Trumps had asked a judge to quash subpoenas for testimony from Ivanka, her father, and her brother Donald Trump Jr on grounds that the investigation is a political “witch hunt”. This, because James, a Democrat, made statements vowing to oppose Donald’s administration when she ran for her current position in 2018.
But the attorney-general’s office alleges that the Trump Organisation – where Ivanka worked as an executive vice president until she decamped for Washington in 2017 – “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions”. Therefore, they wrote, Ivanka “has no plausible basis to defy a lawful subpoena because her testimony plainly bears a reasonable relation to the matters under investigation”.
Attorneys for James’s office cited Ivanka’s status as a “key player” in many transactions under investigation, including the purchase of the Doral, a Florida golf club that Donald Trump tried to use as the host venue for the 2020 Group of Seven summit. They further argue she also “played a key role” in obtaining the Trump Organisation’s lease for the historic Old Post Office building, where her father opened a hotel that became a GOP watering hole and fundraiser venue for politicians and foreign governments hoping to earn his grace and favour.
Worse yet, investigators also want to speak with Ivanka about a Park Avenue apartment her former employer leased to her at an absurdly below-market rental rate. That apartment came with the option to purchase at a fraction of what the Trump Organisation claimed the unit was worth on documents Donald Trump used to lay out his financial condition so he could obtain bank loans.
The investigation run by James is operating in parallel with a probe now run by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg. It has already resulted in indictments against the Trump Organisation and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
If the push to haul her in for a sworn deposition didn’t shatter Ivanka’s Florida bubble, the House committee investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol blew away any illusion that she would be able to quietly bide her time in the Sunshine State until she could again garner invites to the New York galas where she was once a red carpet mainstay.
One year to the day that her father’s term as president expired, the chairman of the select committee investigating the 6 January attack, Bennie Thompson, announced that he was asking for Ivanka’s “voluntary cooperation” with the nine-member panel’s probe into four separate areas of inquiry. Those areas included her father’s “efforts” to “impede the count of certified electoral votes”; his response to the violence perpetrated by his own supporters that day; whether he ordered the National Guard to intervene to quell the riot; and whether he “took appropriate action regarding the continuing threats of violence” in the days between the attack on the Capitol and the end of his term.
Specifically, the committee wants to hear from Ivanka about a conversation she reportedly witnessed between her father and then-vice president Mike Pence on the morning of 6 January. During that conversation, it’s alleged that Pence resisted Donald Trump’s frenzied pleas for him to unilaterally hijack the quadrennial counting of electoral votes and install Trump for a second term.
They would also like to talk to her about whether she was asked to intervene to convince her father that he should urge his riotous supporters to disperse and leave the Capitol.
If Ivanka refuses to voluntarily comply, she could face yet another subpoena for her testimony, and would risk a “criminal contempt of Congress” charge if she openly defies it.
The two investigations in her former homes of New York and Washington are not criminal probes. Neither James nor the select committee can bring criminal charges against her. But the two probes Ivanka must now cooperate with put her in a place she hasn’t been before, in a world that is alien to her.
In 2012, Ivanka escaped the possibility of being the target in a fraud investigation after her father’s then-lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, met with then-Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, to whose reelection campaign he would later donate or raise more than $50,000. And from 2017 to 2021, she enjoyed all the benefits of her close association with the sitting president of the United States. As an assistant to the President, she was functionally – if not legally – immune from having to give evidence to anyone about anything related to her White House sinecure. The investigation James has subpoenaed her in spent much of that time in deep freeze, while court battles over Donald Trump’s financial records played out.
But all that is over now. And while neither investigation is a criminal one, Ivanka is faced with a stark choice: tell the truth or go to prison for perjury.
For the first time in perhaps her entire life, her father can’t protect her from having to speak honestly. It’s an America she won’t recognise, and one she probably will neither enjoy nor thrive in.
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