Ever wonder how many government employees, employee hours and bits of correspondence it takes to get an hour and a half of Ivanka Trump’s time at a public event?
A new cache of hundreds of emails obtained from the Department of Education (DOE) through the Freedom of Information Act shows that for one brief event at the Air & Space Museum in March, at least 21 employees and at least 150 emails were required to arrange President Donald Trump’s daughter’s presence. The emails were obtained by the nonprofit American Oversight and shared exclusively with Newsweek.
The staff hours, angst and emailing that goes into putting a political “principal” like Ivanka Trump, assistant to the president, on stage at any event in Washington is always an exercise in theatrical production and people-management skills, what with the squads of coat-brushing, purse-holding, door-opening flunkies fighting for face time. But in this case, it required the mobilization of at least 21 government employees (some of the emails were fully redacted) to choreograph less than an hour in the schedule of a woman who was not yet an official employee. And high-ranking DOE staff were happy to oblige.
The emails offer a window into the genesis of a typical federal agency publicity event, this one ostensibly arranged to inform the public about the administration’s interest in science, technology engineering and math (STEM) for girls. It was attended by mostly African-American, local schoolchildren and featured a screening of the hit movie Hidden Figures plus short remarks from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Ivanka Trump and Kathryn (Kay) Hire, a NASA astronaut.
The event was the brainchild of office of DeVos, whom Ivanka had run into at a bill signing in the White House on February 28. On March 1, she emailed DeVos (using her private “Ivanka Kushner” email account) to inform her that she wanted their staffs “to continue [to] discuss…opportunities to collaborate on locational/workforce development and K-12 STEM education.”
The next day, DeVos’s chief of staff, Josh Venable, was sending emails around the White House, looking for “Julie in Ivankas’s office.” By that time, Ivanka already had space in the White House, and a staff including Julie Radford, the daughter of a Louisiana Republican, who would eventually be given the title of Ivanka’s chief of staff.
DeVos had been searching for a way to connect “with Jared and Ivanka” since as early as February 6, the day on which she was barely confirmed to her post when Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow evangelical, cast the tie-breaking Senate vote, according to another email from an Education Department staffer.
Throughout March, Radford and other White House staffers exchanged numerous emails with staff in DeVos’s office, arranging, canceling and rearranging meeting times, and discussing the various intricacies of Ivanka’s appearance. Venable emailed Radford, to “follow up on Ivanka’s conversation with Secretary DeVos outside the Oval,” during which Ivanka had mentioned she’d ”like to participate” in a DOE Women’s History Month event, scheduled for March 28. Radford responded: “Ivanka would love to come by the event and deliver a few brief remarks highlighting her support for STEM efforts and thanking Secretary DeVos for her leadership in this area.”
The emails highlight the careful attention paid to Ivanka’s branding on social media—and SnapChat’s involvement in that endeavor. On March 21, Radford emailed Venable that “SnapChat recently expressed interest in having Ivanka snapchat from events that engage with ‘young people’—would your team be open to something like that?”
Ivanka’s unofficial office left nothing to chance: Staff vetted invitations to the event, studied seating and stage charts, requested floor maps and inquired about DeVos’s “social media language” and whether the event would be “open or closed press,” which would determine Ivanka’s arrival and departure times, presumably to control contact.
Ivanka’s unofficial office eventually requested—and got—extra seats for students she wanted to invite, agreed that it was “100% fine to use her name” as long as DeVos’s name was also on the invitation, and set up a meet and greet with students, saying, “that’s always a favorite of Ivanka’s.” The press release ultimately listed the participants and included “Ivanka Trump – White House.”
A panic ensued during the final days before the event, as Ivanka’s staff was unable to give the DOE organizers a time for her arrival and departure, even as the participants were doing a walkthrough. “[S]o sorry to bug,” wrote DOE staffer Laura Riggs, one of several emails to the White House that tried to get a final time. “Any way we can nail down her arrival/departure today?” Radford replied that they had scheduled Ivanka for 45 minutes (the organizers wanted an hour and a half) but were “working to move things around” to arrive a little earlier to comply with DOE’s plan.
On March 28, the spectacle and photo op went off without a hitch. The Washington Post made Ivanka the lead item in its coverage: “At an event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for local school kids ‘getting Excited About STEM’ on Tuesday morning, Ivanka Trump needed no introduction.
“Or at least she didn’t get one. The powerful first daughter was announced to the crowd simply by her name, with no title—because she doesn’t really have one, although she has claimed an office in the West Wing.”
A day later, she had a title, assistant to the president. She was then required to file financial reports and comply with ethics and conflict of interest regulations. At that point, she also got a White House email address. Newsweek has been exclusively given access to emails she sent well into July, indicating that she continued to use private email for months after taking the official post.
Part Two of this report will follow.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to the movie Hidden Figures as Shadow Figures. It also said Ivanka Trump’s title was senior adviser; it is assistant to the president.