Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
When Donald Trump was running for president against Hillary Clinton, the biggest scandal from the Clinton campaign was about her emails – specifically, that Clinton had used a personal email server to send and receive emails (including some containing classified information) during her time in the State Department, rather than official government email.
The now-President and his party turned a “careless” (said the FBI) act into an overblown scandal. Clinton was investigated twice by the FBI and twice cleared of criminal behavior, though she received a stern lecture from former FBI Director James Comey. He also told a House Oversight and Government Reform panel that the agency’s investigation could not establish that she “acted with the necessary criminal intent” (though his decision to publicize the FBI investigation may have cost Clinton the election).
Donald Trump, however, said he believed Clinton’s use of personal email for official government business was such a significant violation that he made it a cornerstone of his loud and unrelenting campaign pitch to rabid followers: “Lock her up.”
Is he going to do the same to Ivanka?
It turns out the President’s daughter, who serves as a senior adviser to him, has been using her personal email for official government business.
Ivanka Trump pleaded ignorance, saying she just didn’t know the rules about personal email use – a story that’s a little tough to believe, given that during the campaign her father apparently considered himself an expert on the very issue of personal email use in the White House. (Her lawyer also denies that she sent or received classified material on her private email.)
It’s also another example of the President’s troubling nepotism habit. If his daughter had not been adequately briefed on the rules, she should not have been doing government business for her dad.
A White House spokesman tried to split hairs, arguing that Ivanka Trump didn’t use a personal server housed in her home or at the Trump Organization – as if it somehow makes her emails more secure and not less. And she used nearly identical justifications as Clinton: that she used the account “almost always for logistics and scheduling concerning her family,” that emails related to her work with other government officials were captured in those officials’ government email accounts, and that she worked with a lawyer after the fact to sift through the emails, submitting the relevant ones to the official records.
That wasn’t good enough when Clinton asserted it. But apparently the rules are different for the Trumps.
This White House has been marked by a level of scandal and hypocrisy heretofore unseen in American politics. The lying and self-dealing are so pervasive that the stories about them barely stay in the headlines. There are simply too many, they come too often, and – dangerously – we get used to them.
The President continues to profit from his own company, which does deals with the same leaders who want American policy to favor them; those same leaders stay in the President’s hotels when they visit the United States. It’s so blatantly unethical, and so straight out of the corrupt authoritarian’s playbook, it would be laughable – were it not further dismantling American democratic norms by the day.
And the bad apple didn’t fall far from the Trump tree. The President’s daughter also actively mixed business and politics, using her nebulous position in the White House to build her brand. Though she announced in July that she was shuttering her namesake company, she had already spent months wearing (and touting) her own brand and using her position as a marketing ploy.
She says, now, that she has turned over government-related emails to the appropriate record-keepers. But the email lapse under scrutiny is from the same period in which Ivanka Trump was still profiting from her shoe and clothing line. When her entire family so cunningly uses their political status for personal monetary gain and then claims the business is separate, do we believe that she separated the political from the personal? Is it even possible to run a pure business endeavor, without political influence, when you work in the White House and when your professional brand is your job?
If this White House had any sense of ethical obligation, fundamental fairness or even self-awareness, it would agree to – even demand – an FBI investigation, to demonstrate that their alleged commitment to law and order isn’t just a cudgel used against perceived opponents.
But of course, that is exactly what the President’s crusade against “Crooked Hillary” was about: leverage against a hated opponent. There was nothing genuine about it then; it was just one more way for a wannabe-dictator to attack an adversary. Nothing makes this clearer than the response to Ivanka Trump’s personal email usage.
Consider, too, that a Republican Congress opened up investigation after investigation into Clinton – her emails, Benghazi, and on and on. Those same Republican congressmen and women should be doing one of two things: holding the Trump family to the same standard and demanding an FBI investigation, or issuing a full-throated apology, recognizing that they acted out of craven self-interest to undermine an opponent rather than out of any desire to uphold the law.
They will do neither: Decency and honesty have long since absconded from the Republican Party.
Democrats, who now have a majority in Congress, shouldn’t stoop to the level of the GOP and engage in petty political warfare. They should implement their agenda, which centers on actually helping people, rather than just tightening their hold on power and trying to destroy their enemies at any cost.
But there is something they should do with their newfound power, if they are to be responsible stewards of the rule of law: hold the President and his grifting family fully accountable. That starts with President Trump – and Crooked Ivanka.