Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $100 million to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund, an initiative proposed by first daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump. The fund, which was first announced in April, has already raised serious legal and ethical questions about how a White House adviser can both shape foreign policy and actively solicit donations from foreign countries for the fund.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the initiative would provide technical assistance and investments for projects that support the economic empowerment of women around the globe. Ivanka Trump does not control the money, though she first pitched the idea to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and has discussed the idea with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On Sunday, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim praised “Ivanka’s leadership” in spearheading the fund, and called it “a stunning achievement.”
President Donald Trump was extremely critical of Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the Clinton Foundation while campaigning against Hillary Clinton, going so far as to call for Clinton to return all the money given to the foundation, both in speeches on the campaign trail and during the October presidential debate.
“You talk about women and women’s rights. These are people that push gays off business — off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly, and yet you take their money,” Trump said during the debate. “So I’d like to ask you right now. Why don’t you give back the money that you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money. I think it would be a great gesture.”
The Clinton Foundation has received between $10 million and $25 million from Saudi Arabia. A foundation spokesperson said during the campaign that the foundation did not accept any donations from Saudi Arabia while Clinton was Secretary of State. Trump also accused the foundation of “pay-to-play” schemes during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.
He has not, however, spoken about the legal and ethical concerns associated with Ivanka Trump’s World Bank initiative. Since Ivanka works as a senior adviser in the White House, it’s possible that she could be involved with foreign policy decisions relating to the countries that have donated to the fund. It’s not illegal or unprecedented for presidents or their families to engage in philanthropy while 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.
“The approval process is elaborate, because of the many risks, including illegal quid pro quos when the private partners contribute large sums of money. Then there is the risk of giving those partners special access and influence, which is wrong and in some cases illegal,” Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama told ThinkProgress via email when the World Bank first announced the fund in April.
During her visit to Saudi Arabia, Ivanka Trump also met with Saudi women, including business leaders and government officials, to discuss “women’s economic empowerment.” Trump is in the country as part of her father’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an extremely oppressive society for women, who are not allowed to drive, and must obtain permission from a male “guardian” in order to travel or marry.
In the meeting, Trump called Saudi Arabia’s progress on women’s rights “encouraging.”
According to the Washington Post, Trump’s meeting was met with some criticism from Saudi Arabian activists. “If Ivanka is interested in women empowerment and human rights, she should see activists, and not just officials,” Aziza al-Yousef, a 58-year-old activist who has campaigned to end the country’s guardianship rules, said.