Kushner, Ivanka Trump face ethical land mines ahead

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, attend a news conference with the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo)
Updated 04 April 2017

Kushner, Ivanka Trump face ethical land mines ahead

WASHINGTON: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, presidential relatives with powerful White House jobs, can help shape America’s foreign and domestic policies.
They’ve also built a business empire worth as much as $740 million that has ties around the world, newly released financial disclosures show.
What happens when their government and private sector worlds collide?
Like other federal employees, the daughter and son-in-law of the president are required to adhere to transparency and ethics rules, and by law they cannot take any action in their government positions that affects their individual financial holdings.
New disclosures of the breadth and tangle of Kushner’s financial holdings demonstrate why determining whether either White House adviser is violating the rules is no simple question. If they help the president on tax reform, trade policy or banking regulations, the couple is likely to face a steady stream of ethics challenges and calls for recusal, forcing them to balance their desire to work on those issues against the political impact that negative attention may bring to the president — and themselves.
“The problem with conflicts is that they rarely present themselves in black and white,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University who wrote a book about public corruption.
President Donald Trump doesn’t face the same issues. The president, who broke with precedent and decided to retain a financial interest in his real estate empire, and vice president are not subject to the conflicts of interest laws that govern his employees, although the anti-bribery statute and others do apply. Trump has said he believes he can’t have a conflict.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time,” he said in January. “I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.”
White House officials, meanwhile, may face regular dilemmas, including assessing whether they’re getting too close to crossing a legal line. That’s not so simple.
It might “look bad” if Kushner helps negotiate a tax reform proposal that continues to allow real estate investors such as himself to carry forward losses, Henning said. But because so many in his industry would benefit, Henning said Kushner would probably be on the right side of the conflict laws — even if there is a political price to pay.
If, however, Kushner presses for a special tax provision that only he and a few others would benefit from, “well, there you’re getting much closer to a real conflict,” Henning said.
Richard Painter, a former White House ethics counselor to President George W. Bush who has been sharply critical of the Trump administration’s handling of conflicts issues, argues, however, that banking regulation, taxes and trade cut too close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s interests. “I think there are pretty clear problems with the criminal statute if they weigh in on any of those areas,” he said.
Kushner and Ivanka Trump will recuse themselves from advising on policies when necessary, their lawyers say, though they haven’t publicly spelled out when they would do so.
Kushner and Ivanka Trump are working with outside attorneys, the Office of the White House Counsel and the Office of Government Ethics say. They resigned from all positions at their companies and have divested from 58 of what could have been the most problematic businesses and investments, such as a Manhattan skyscraper seeking new investment partners.
Still, Kushner holds hundreds of remaining entities, most of them tied to commercial real estate. Ivanka Trump continues to benefit from her fashion brand, which includes clothing largely manufactured overseas and imported.
Divesting, as Kushner did with the skyscraper, is the first — and, according to government watchdogs, best — step in avoiding conflicts of interest.
Like Kushner, others joining the White House have sold or are selling certain troublesome holdings. For example, former Goldman Sachs executives Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, are divesting from their Goldman holdings, according to the financial disclosures and paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics.
Officials also can recuse themselves, meaning that a government employee steps aside on issues that can help his or her individual financial holdings. Failure to do so can lead to a Department of Justice investigation.
In addition to his Goldman holdings, Cohn also indicated he is selling roughly $17 million worth of stock in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. He has now completely divested from those assets, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said late Monday.
Until that transaction was finalized, Cohn should have been recusing himself from all economic issues involving China, some government watchdogs argue. Trade, especially with China, is one of Trump’s core issues. The president is holding a summit with Chinese leaders later this week at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of self-policing that takes place here,” said Scott Amey, senior counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, an outside group in Washington that monitors ethics issues.
It is up to the employee to share information about business relationships that may pose conflicts, and then it is up to the White House ethics counselor to take a “hands-on” approach in making sure the employee does not cross any ethical boundaries, he said.


How humor is helping Italians cope with coronavirus shock

Updated 11 min 10 sec ago

How humor is helping Italians cope with coronavirus shock

  • Italians use wit and irony to stay resilient amid dwindling resources after three weeks of lockdown
  • Italian comedians continue to find creative ways to inject humor during nationwide quarantine

DUBAI: The streets are quiet. The nightly shows on the balcony and from the windows in Italian cities have dissipated.
They have been replaced by the eerie, constant sound of police cars patrolling neighborhoods to ensure that everyone stays home and stays safe. The novelty of being locked in one’s home is no more.
It has now been exactly three weeks since Italians were placed under strict lockdown. Even so, there is still a stream of comedians who are making fun of the situation on social media and YouTube, providing ways to inject humor into an otherwise dark and increasingly tragic situation.
A week into lockdown, actor Paolo Camilli posted “Agenda of a Quarantine” on his Instagram, in which he opens his packed agenda of digital meetings: Work meetings on Zoom, Flashmob on the balcony, Pilates and Zumba classes on Microsoft Teams, dinner and aperitifs on Skype, and movie viewings to keep him busy for an entire week as he tries to find time to meet the person on the other end of the phone for a video call.
“I really believe this quarantine is a time to spend with oneself,” he said before recounting his busy schedule as if the seemingly apocalyptic moment we are all currently facing had not happened.

FASTFACTS

  • Italian literature full of examples of humor’s use as form of resilience.
  • Roman dialect poetry of Trilussa and Belli highlight humor’s place in Italian culture.
  • Playwright Eduardo De Filippo produced masterful tragicomic works in 20th century.
  • Commedia all’Italiana films merged satire, social critique in post-WWII era.

Having difficulty finding time in his overflowing agenda, Camilli added with a smile: “Listen, should we just try and schedule this (interview) for the next end of the world? That way we can speak calmly without too many distractions?”
The message: Will quarantine actually change how we live our lives? No, we keep going on in just the same way.
Living life to the fullest has long been the Italian motto. But now the mood has changed, and the novelty of spending so much time alone has worn off. For many, dread has crept in.
“On one of the first days of the lockdown, everyone in Rome went out on their balconies and sang the Italian national anthem and I got tears in my eyes,” said Carmen Scarpati, a resident of the capital.
“Now the tune is different. We’ve done the singing and dancing on balconies to support one another, and today people are worried about bills they need to pay and about putting enough food on the table.”
There is quiet acceptance that this state will go on for some time. “The positive side? More families are spending time together, whether in the same residence or via Zoom or other social media apps,” said Scarpati, explaining how for birthday parties for her son’s friends, the families still get together on Zoom to celebrate.
“We’re all in this together and we know this, but the notion of togetherness now comes from passing time with your close friends and families,” she said.
Scarpati said all the children in her son’s school were told to make rainbows a few days ago with the words “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything will be OK).
The artworks were hung from the windows and outside on the balconies, endowing the surroundings with child visions of hope.
“Humor, satire and irony are very important to Italian culture, and Italians have always done their best to use humor to help them cope and be resilient as they deal with difficult situations,” said Berenice Cocciolillo, director of web communications and a professor at John Cabot University in Rome.

A week into lockdown, actor Paolo Camilli posted his packed schedule of meetings on his Instagram.

In Italian literature, there are great examples of humor being used as forms of resilience. According to Cocciolillo, from the Roman dialect poetry of Trilussa and Belli to the famous Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo, whose works are masterful fusions of the comic and the tragic, there have been constant examples of the importance of humor in Italian culture throughout the course of the last century.
Another one is the Commedia all’Italiana film genre of the late 1950s through the 1970s, which united tragedy and comedy, satire and social critique during a challenging time in Italy — post-World War II and during the 1970s, when the country was on the brink of revolution due to waves of political terrorism from both far-right and far-left factions.
“Italians have always had a great love for comic actors such as Totò, Alberto Sordi, Paolo Villaggio, Carlo Verdone and Roberto Benigni,” said Cocciolillo.

Berenice Cocciolillo

“The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Humor is still in the air, as the numerous funny videos and memes being shared on social media show.”
But humor depends on people’s personal situations. As the streets have emptied, grocery stores enact stringent measures upon entry, family members who live in different residences are barred from seeing each other, and the unemployment rate has increased, togetherness now takes the form of other ways of bonding.
“A big part of our culture is about teasing people and situations,” said Francesco Faré, account director of Brandcot, a communications agency in Milan.
“We’ve always poked fun at our government and politicians. It’s how we survive certain situations,” he said from his balcony in Milan during a Zoom call.

“We now have massive production of food. People are cooking all the time. What’s more is that the supermarkets have run out of yeast to make baked goods. We’re all having to be very creative with our cooking,” he added with a chuckle.

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“We laugh, we make fun of the situation and of each other, and we cook, cook and cook. And even after the quarantine ends, we’ll still make fun of the situation because we’ll be all fat.”
Not everyone, however, has access to storing the same amount of food. “Some people can’t afford to stock up on food for several weeks; many have to still shop day by day,” said Scarpati.
“We’re learning once again to be grateful for the small things, for the gifts of each day and for our connection to each other.”
While the initial festivities on the balconies are not as much as before, and the humor does not move people as quickly into explosions of laughter, the resilience now lies with one’s values.
“We’re now all going back to our cultural values. Regardless of a difference in generations, we believe in community, in togetherness, even if we’re physically apart,” said Faré.
“Whether we’re with our families or alone, we Italians are used to going out for dinner nearly every night. That hasn’t changed. No matter what you have, sharing a meal and a laugh is more important now than ever.”