Saturday Star

Abusing the White House?

- TIMOTHY L O’BRIEN

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 the British tabloid and website, by falsely reporting she had once worked as a prostitute, caused the First Lady to miss “major business opportunit­ies” and “multimilli­on-dollar relationsh­ips”.

The lawsuit said Melania’s missed deals would have involved “apparel, accessorie­s, shoes, jewellery, 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, the lawsuit noted, but the reputation­al damage done by the Daily Mail had disrupted those plans. Melania’s spokespeop­le said reporters and others had misinterpr­eted the language in the suit and the first lady had “no intention” of trying to profit from her 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 jewellery she had sported during a 60 Minutes interview about her and her father’s White House plans.

More recently, Ivanka has stated she would part ways with the Trump Organisati­on and her own business by moving to Washington and taking a “leave of absence”.

Meanwhile, she has invited titans of industry for dinner at her 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 in a number of decisions that the White House will make, including corporate tax rates, trade agreements and labour regulation­s.

The taint of possible self-dealing that clings to Ivanka’s comings-and-goings, is a step more pronounced with Kushner. Privy to innermost White House decisions, he has yet to distance himself from his family’s real estate operations: He moved his assets into a trust controlled by his mother.

And then we come to Trump himself, who freely mingles his business interests and the authority of the presidency.

On Wednesday he defended Ivanka’s wallet and lit into Nordstrom because the retailer recently dropped her daughter’s clothing line due to weak sales, tweeting: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person – always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

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

Since she is seeking at least $150 million (R2 billion) in damages stemming from missed business opportunit­ies, the lawyers representi­ng the Daily Mail should avail themselves of their discovery powers to secure every email, communique and document about White House business prospects that the parents and children discussed. They should also subpoena their tax returns and banking records.

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

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, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include TrumpNatio­n: The Art of Being The Donald.

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