It’s easy for anyone following American politics these days to suffer scandal fatigue. On reading the Washington Post scoop that Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of official government emails from her personal email address, I cannot be the only person whose first thought was: Oh god, not the emails. I just can’t listen to another TV panel debate about government emails.
But this kind of fatigue is dangerous, because it works in the Trump administration’s favour. The Trump White House is so chaotic, so brazen in its disregard for American political norms, that observers are left floundering. We barely have time to absorb one scandal before another one hits. The result is that Trump officials are able to break rules to an extent that would be unthinkable under any other administration.
The first and most obvious point is that Ivanka Trump is a hypocrite. On the campaign trail, her father stoked outrage at Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, whipping up crowds to chant “Lock her up!” And yet, Ivanka Trump evidently thought nothing of circumventing official government email to conduct White House business herself.
She is not the only administration official to have been caught using their private email address improperly. Her husband, Jared Kushner, was found last year to have done the same. Senior officials Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller were all found to have used their Gmail accounts for government work. But, according to a Washington Post source, Ivanka Trump is “the worst offender”.
There are three main reasons why the use of private email accounts by government officials is problematic. First, it could be a way of circumventing the Presidential Records Act, a federal law that requires all government communications to be archived. Second, it can be a security risk if emails containing classified information are sent via insecure accounts. And, finally, it blurs the boundaries between public and private communications – is the sender acting in their official capacity, or otherwise? When it comes to the Trump administration that question is often worryingly hard to answer.
A statement provided to the Washington Post by Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s lawyer, said that Ivanka Trump had not used her private email address to send any classified messages, that she had now handed over all the emails to be archived and that the breach had happened before she was fully briefed on the rules.
Let that sink in a moment. Are we really supposed to believe that after years of listening to her father rant against “Crooked Hillary”, Ivanka Trump would not have an inkling that using her private email address for government business is the wrong thing to do?
The biggest problem is not that Ivanka Trump is a hypocrite, it’s that she appears to believe that the usual laws do not apply to her – or perhaps that they should not apply to her. For Ivanka Trump, as for the rest of the Trump family, the distinction between official and private communications makes no sense.
Ivanka has already shown she is expert at exploiting her public office for financial gain. She used her role as First Daughter to promote her own clothing brand, once wearing her own bracelet during a “60 Minutes” interview as though she thought becoming a presidential adviser was something similar to launching a reality TV show to hawk your brand.
She did eventually shut down her eponymous clothing line this summer, but even earlier this month it was reported that she had won approval from China for 16 new trademarks, raising more questions about the extent to which the Trump family is blending official and private business.
Trump and Kushner also earned over $80m in private income last year, including $3.9m from Ivanka Trump’s stake in a D.C. hotel frequented by visiting dignitaries and diplomats. For the Trump family, politics is business.
Speaking on CNN, the Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal called for “some kind of investigative effort, whether it’s through the Office of Government Ethics or the Congress”. Now that Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, Trump Inc. will finally come under greater scrutiny. It might be exhausting to keep on top of every White House scandal – but in the end they are all connected, and the sum is bigger than the parts. The White House has become an extension of the Trump organisation, and that must be stopped.