WHITE HOUSE —
One unintended consequence of President Donald Trump’s appearance at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg was a renewed focus on the blurring of lines between his official duty and family. This was caused by Ivanka Trump representing the president during at least one working session of the summit in Germany.
But for the White House, the G-20 summit was nothing out of the ordinary.
"The president set the stage in Europe," White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told an interviewer on Fox News Sunday. "The leaders of the G-20 came to the president. He was a star in Hamburg and no one can take that away. And the fact of the matter is, I think he’s placing America first."
Some, however, see Trump placing family first. He is being chastised for exiting at least one and possibly as many as three G-20 sessions last week, at least part of the time, and having his daughter occupy his chair until he returned.
One of those instances, during a session on African development, was revealed in a tweet (subsequently deleted) from the Russian delegation’s "sherpa" (the leader’s chief representative), Svetlana Lukash.
'Unprecedented ... breach of protocol'
Critics are calling Trump's decision to have his daughter sit in for him unprecedented and a breach of diplomatic protocol.
"There is no precedent for a head of government’s adult child taking a seat. ... It was insulting to the others present and sent a signal of disempowerment regarding senior government officials," said Lawrence Summers, who was U.S. Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. Summers discussed the incident with the Financial Times and The Washington Post.
The president went on the defensive Monday, attempting to redirect the focus, via Twitter, to his opponent in last year’s general election, Democrat Hillary Clinton:
"If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!"
The former secretary of state’s daughter quickly tweeted a retort to Trump: "Good morning Mr. President. It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not."
'Very standard procedure,' Trump says
The president had also tweeted an explanation, saying that when he left the room "for short meetings with Japan and other countries I asked Ivanka to hold seat." Trump said that was "very standard" procedure at such an international meeting, and added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with him.
Merkel explained at a G-20 news conference that it is up to each delegation to decide who takes over the chair when the leader is not present.
"Ivanka Trump was part and parcel of the American delegation, so that is something that other delegations also do," Merkel told reporters. "It’s very well known that she works at the White House and is also engaged in certain initiatives."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary at the White House, calls the criticism of Ivanka Trump "an outrageous attack."
"We should be proud to have Ivanka sitting in that seat, considering particularly the topic at hand [women's economic empowerment] was part of her portfolio," Sanders told reporters during Monday’s off-camera news briefing. "If she didn’t have the last name that she has, I think she would be constantly celebrated instead of constantly attacked."
Trump’s daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, are official advisers to the president. But what is more troubling for critics of the president — and even some of his supporters — is the fuzzy line between official White House business and the Trump family real-estate firm. That is raising ethical concerns and questions about transparency.
Three lawsuits by various parties have been filed, alleging that President Trump violated what is known as the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, since businesses that he owns receive payments from foreign governments.
The Trump administration has termed the legal filings without merit and contended the plaintiffs have no standing to sue, because they have not suffered due to the transactions listed in the lawsuits.