During Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, this happened:
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate a combined $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs that was the brainchild of Ivanka Trump.
The announcement by World Bank President Jim Young Kim came during a visit to Saudi Arabia by President Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The easy way to cover a story like this is to point out the hypocrisy. That one practically writes itself. After all, there are Trump’s tweets, like these:
The Republican nominee didn’t hesitate to call the Clinton Foundation a “criminal enterprise” for accepting money from Saudi Arabia during one of the debates.
But in the scheme of things, the evolution of Trump the presidential candidate to Trump the president has actually been nothing if not an exercise in hypocrisy. The real question is whether or not the media will treat Ivanka Trump’s role with the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund the same way they treated Hillary Clinton with respect to her role with the Clinton Foundation.
There are some differences. Ivanka Trump holds the title of “special advisor to the president” while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and then presidential candidate. The Clinton Foundation is a private family foundation while the women entrepreneurs fund will be run by the World Bank.
But the big difference, at least so far, is one of transparency. Before being confirmed as Secretary of State, Clinton and the Obama transition team released a Memorandum of Understanding to which she would be held accountable on any questions related to the foundation. Throughout her tenure and then during the campaign, Clinton was scrutinized relentlessly. Particularly related to the latter, Paul Glastris summarized:
Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.
What do we know about Ivanka Trump’s role in the Women Entrepreneurs Fund, how it will operate, or what safeguards have been put in place to ensure it won’t raise questions of quid pro quo? The truth is, we know almost nothing.
Apparently the idea of the fund was Ivanka’s and she is the one who proposed it to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. While the Wall Street Journal article on this story suggests that Ivanka does not control the fund and is not raising money for the it, I guess that we’re all supposed to simply accept the idea that it was merely a coincidence of timing that the contributions from Saudi Arabia and UAE were announced during Trump’s visit—and specifically during an event in Riyadh with Ivanka.
As Natasha Geiling points out, it is not unusual for presidents and their families to engage in philanthropy while they’re in the White House, “but such efforts are required to go through a lengthy approval process to ensure that there is no sort of special access or influence given in exchange for donations.” None of that has been forthcoming about the Women Entrepreneurs Fund at this point. Where is Ivanka Trump’s “memorandum of understanding” to which she can be held accountable?
Beyond all that, Laurel Raymond points to something that should raise a lot of questions.
Yet, while the Trumps appear to be steering global philanthropy into projects they have a hand in, the Trump administration writ large has been focused on gutting foreign aid and programs that would help the very populations Ivanka claims to be concerned with.
Recently, Trump eliminated U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund, which provides maternal and child-health services in 150 countries around the world. His budget proposal would cut aid to developing countries by over one-third. He wants to slash $650 million from the World Bank, the same organization in talks with Ivanka.
And, while Ivanka is publicly promoting the importance of investing in female entrepreneurship, Trump has proposed eliminating the government’s Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME). The PRIME program disproportionately benefits women’s businesses, because they tend to be smaller and work with smaller amounts of capital.
I’m the last one you’ll see criticizing something as important as a women’s entrepreneurship fund. That is exactly the kind of activity that contributes to a feminist foreign policy. I’m also not going to suggest that we should treat Ivanka the same way I critiqued the media for their “assumption of corruption” when it came to Hillary. But these efforts by Ivanka Trump raise many questions that deserve scrutiny. And that needs to go beyond simply pointing to her father’s hypocrisy.