Once in a lifetime.

Photographer: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Melania Expounds on Public Service, Trump-Style

Timothy L. O'Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Gadfly and Bloomberg View. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."
Read More.
a | A

We can all thank Melania Trump for giving us a clearer sense of what she and her family are looking for from their stay in the White House.

In court papers Melania filed on Monday as part of a libel lawsuit against the parent company of the Daily Mail, she said that the British tabloid and web site, by falsely reporting that she had once worked as a prostitute, caused the first lady to miss “major business opportunities” and “multimillion-dollar relationships.”

The lawsuit, first reported by the New York Post on Tuesday evening, said Melania’s missed deals would have involved such products as “apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance.”

Melania’s role as first lady to President Donald Trump would have offered her a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to cash in on such deals, the lawsuit noted, but the reputational damage done by the Daily Mail had disrupted those plans. Amid a little swirl of social media attention for the case yesterday, Melania’s spokespeople said that reporters and others had misinterpreted the language in the suit and that the first lady had “no intention” of trying to profit from her White House role.

Fortunately for another Trump, the president's daughter Ivanka, nothing yet seems to have unwound similar opportunities afforded by being a member of one of the world’s most famous families, with regular access to two of the world’s most powerful men (her father and her husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president).

Shortly after Trump was elected, Ivanka’s eponymous accessories company drew criticism for aggressively marketing jewelry she had sported during a “60 Minutes” interview about her and her father’s White House plans.

More recently, Ivanka has stated that she would part ways with the Trump Organization and her own business by moving to Washington and taking a “leave of absence” from the companies. But as ProPublica reported last week, she has yet to make public documentation proving that she has formally left her businesses.

Meanwhile, she has invited titans of industry for dinner at her Washington home, where the guests included the chief executive of Wal-Mart. Ivanka’s clothing line is sold in Wal-Mart stores, and Wal-Mart has an interest, inevitably, in a number of decisions that the Trump White House will make, including corporate tax rates, trade agreements and labor regulations.

Ivanka seems to be blissfully unaware that any of this might appear, at a minimum, unseemly. On Wednesday morning, she tweeted a photograph of herself attending a White House meeting with her father’s business advisory council, a panel of prominent corporate executives assigned to give her father guidance:

Ivanka Trump @IvankaTrump
At last week's Business Advisory Council meeting, leveling the playing field for women in the workforce was one of… https://t.co/0gLVmwiqlP
Twitter: Ivanka Trump on Twitter

The taint of possible self-dealing that clings, vaguely, to Ivanka’s comings-and-goings, is a step more pronounced with her husband, Jared Kushner. Privy to innermost White House decisions, he has yet to effectively distance himself from the Kushner family’s real-estate operations (he simply moved his assets into a trust controlled by a less-than-disinterested party, his mother).

And then we come to the Trump patriarch himself, who freely mingles his family's business interests and the authority of the presidency. Just this morning, he defended Ivanka's wallet and lit into Nordstrom on Twitter because the retailer recently dropped his daughter's clothing line due to weak sales:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!
Twitter: Donald J. Trump on Twitter

Trump's tweets are just mood music in this discussion, though. Of greater note is that the president still hasn’t released his tax returns or truly separated himself from the Trump Organization’s business affairs. By these decisions, Trump, who isn’t subject to federal conflicts-of-interest laws, has ignored decades of Oval Office tradition meant to reassure the public that the president -- unlike Melania -- isn’t looking for “multimillion-dollar relationships” in the White House.

For students of good government, Melania’s lawsuit does have an upside: the discovery process.

Since she is seeking at least $150 million in damages stemming from missed business opportunities, the lawyers representing the Daily Mail should eventually avail themselves of their discovery powers to secure each and every e-mail, communique and document about White House business prospects that the Trump parents and children discussed. They should also subpoena the Trump family’s tax returns and banking records while they’re at it.

If President Trump isn’t inclined to release his tax returns or be more transparent about his business dealings, then maybe the courts can help him along.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net