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Ivanka Trump’s personal email excuse shows she only wants to seem competent some of the time

She violated the rules by using personal email but wants you to believe she didn’t know better.

Ivanka Trump at a campaign rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana in November 2018.
Ivanka Trump at a campaign rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in November 2018.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Ivanka Trump isn’t sure what role she wants to play in the White House: shrewd political adviser, or political novice and first daughter. But amid revelations that she used a personal email account to communicate about government business last year, she’s going with the latter.

Carol Leonnig and Josh Dawsey at the Washington Post reported on Monday that President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter sent hundreds of emails to aides, Cabinet officials, and her assistant using a private email account she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner. (It was reported last year that Kushner had used a private account to conduct government business as well.) According to the Post, Trump told aides she wasn’t familiar with federal records rules barring such practices. That’s what her representatives told the publication as well.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, told the Post that while transitioning into government — but after she was given a White House email account — Trump “sometimes used her personal account, almost always for logistics and scheduling concerning her family.” That took place, he said, “until the White House provided her the same guidance they had given others.”

Mirijanian said Trump has turned over all of her government-related emails already so they can be stored with White House records.

Revelations about Trump’s email usage immediately drew comparisons to Hillary Clinton, who during the 2016 campaign was dogged by questions about her use of a private server for emails as secretary of state.

The hypocrisy revealed is twofold.

First, the Republican Party has focused heavily on Clinton’s emails, including Ivanka Trump’s father. “Lock her up” chants about Clinton’s email use continue to be a hallmark of President Trump’s rallies. In that context, it is hard to fathom that Ivanka Trump might not recognize that using a personal email to conduct government business is a bad idea.

She’s not the only one in the administration to do it, either — according to the New York Times last year, along with Kushner, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, and Stephen Miller also occasionally used private email addresses for government business or received government-related emails on personal accounts.

Second, Trump’s excuse — that she just didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to do it — also exemplifies the doe-in-the-headlights demeanor she often exhibits when the expectations of her political know-how and skill become too high. Trump wants to know government and politics when convenient. When not, she’s just a first daughter trying to do her best.

This is a scenario that plays out over and over again with Ivanka Trump

Trump has sought to cast herself as a reluctant member of the Trump administration, as a figure who, along with her husband, has been sort of swept up in her father’s surprise political ascendance and is there helping out.

She took an official role at the White House in March 2017 and over the summer closed her eponymous fashion brand, signaling she’s moving more in the direction of politics. Still, she tries to play the other side when convenient.

In June 2017, months after joining the White House in an official capacity, Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends that she really tries to “stay out of politics” and that she’s not a “political savant.”

In September of that year, Trump told the Financial Times that people have “unrealistic expectations” of her as a moderating force for her father. “That my presence in and of itself would carry so much weight with my father that he would abandon his core values and the agenda that the American people voted for when they elected him,” she said.

In a February interview with NBC News’s Peter Alexander, she scolded the interviewer for asking about the multiple women who have accused her father of sexual harassment and assault. She said it was a “pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter.”

Trump has positioned herself as a fierce advocate of families and women, but during the family separation crisis, she was publicly silent, speaking out only after the president said he would put an end to it.

But at other times, Trump acts as though she knows exactly what she’s doing.

She sat in for her father at the G20 summit last year, and this year, there were rumblings she might replace Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations (Trump shot down those rumors). In the same interview where Trump chided Alexander for asking her about the allegations against her father, she discussed US-North Korea relations. During the 2018 midterms, Trump appeared at a campaign rally with her father. She hosts dinners with Washington influencers and power brokers.

Just this week, she tweeted her support for changes to congressional rules that would allow lawmakers to wear religious headwear in Capitol Hill and expressed her support for a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill currently in Congress.

Trump wants you to believe she knows what she’s doing some of the time. But when she makes a mistake or sees it as expedient, she still wants to be able to play the novice card.

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