She was in Bedminster, N.J., with President Donald Trump the rainy June 2017 weekend when he decided to fire FBI director James Comey.
She was a passenger on the plane flying home from the G-20 conference in Germany the next month, strategizing about how to manage the fallout of her brother Don Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer peddling “dirt” about Hillary Clinton.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and West Wing adviser, also spoke briefly at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and a lobbyist who was present for that meeting during the campaign.
Yet the family member closest to the president – and the woman who as a key campaign figure helped lobby her father to hire Paul Manafort, a man who is now under indictment on money laundering and fraud charges, as campaign manager – has yet to be called in for questioning by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.
As Mueller negotiates an interview with the president, former White House aides who themselves have sat down with prosecutors for daylong grillings are wondering why.
“She’s involved in everything,” said one former White House adviser who has previously clashed with the Trump children. “It’s odd. Unless they consider her that ‘T’ word.”
So far, only Ivanka Trump’s Washington enemies are actively floating the idea that she might be a “target” of Mueller’s investigation – and therefore not called in as a witness.
But former prosecutors and Justice Department lawyers said the fact that she has yet to be tapped – and that Mueller’s team, according to people familiar with the case, has not yet requested any documents related to her – says more about Mueller’s risk-averse process than it does about her lack of involvement in the events underpinning the Russia inquiry.
That someone so close to the major events under scrutiny would not be interviewed is unusual, former prosecutors and Justice Department lawyers said. But Mueller’s decision to steer clear of the first daughter – at least for now – is a signal of his “don’t poke the bear until you have to” strategy.
“Mueller would know that trying to interview Ivanka Trump would be like lighting a match to the highly combustible Donald Trump,” said Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor who reported directly to Mueller when he served in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of California. “The team would want to wait to the last possible moment, if at all, before taking that step.”
Calling Ivanka Trump in for an interview, former Justice Department officials and legal experts said, would be risky primarily for two reasons: it would give the public perception that the prolonged investigation has reached the point of harassing the president’s family members, giving Trump more ammunition to decry how unfairly he and his family are being treated in an investigation he has already deemed a “witch hunt.”
And it would carry with it the very real possibility that the reactive president would “go nuclear,” according to a former federal prosecutor, once again raising the possibility of pardons or toying with the idea of firing the special counsel all together.
“In a typical criminal investigation, it’s costless to talk to her, other than your time,” said one former Justice Department official. “But this would not be costless, and that would factor into your calculus: How essential do we think she is? What’s the downside risk of talking to her?”
For now, Mueller’s team appears to be playing it safe when it comes to talking to Trump’s closest confidantes. Former communications director Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s closest advisers, was not interviewed by Mueller’s team until December, 2017; Kushner has only been interviewed only on one narrow issue: his meeting with a Russian ambassador during the transition. Direct family members, meanwhile, have yet to interact with the investigation.
“There are two possible explanations,” said Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department. “It may be he’s found that every time Ivanka was in the room, there were other people there that he has interviewed. Or they’re saving the family for the very end.”
Mueller’s team appears to be preparing for a potential interview with the president himself. In a list of 49 questions for Trump obtained and published by the New York Times, Mueller seems to want to probe, specifically, the president’s relationships with family members.
One question focuses on what Trump knew during the transition about son-in-law Jared Kushner’s efforts to establish a back-channel of communication with Russia — raising another possibility: that Ivanka Trump hasn’t been called because Kushner, her husband, is under scrutiny. Ivanka Trump would be shielded by spousal privilege from answering any questions that might incriminate Kushner.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Abbe Lowell, Ivanka Trump’s ethics attorney and Kushner’s lawyer, said in a statement: “That POLITICO is now doing an article on why Ms. Trump has not done anything to merit an article is the definition of making up the news. Media outlets should know and act better than doing that and becoming a vehicle for those with an axe to grind.”
Officials in the administration explain away Ivanka Trump’s presence at key moments in the Trump-Russia timeline as someone who was there but not there: yes, she was around Bedminster the weekend of the Comey firing, for example, but they say she was playing with her kids, not scheming about ousting the FBI director. Sure, she was on the plane home from Germany, but she spent most of her time in the back cabin, away from the discussion of how to craft a statement on behalf of her brother, Don Jr.
In past special counsel investigations involving presidents, First Children have been shielded from special counsel investigations because of their age, or because they played no role in the West Wing.
But Ivanka has taken on an official government role in her father’s administration, giving her a dual identity that for over a year now has bedeviled her. In an interview with NBC News in Seoul earlier this year, where she traveled as an official U.S. representative to the Olympics, she balked when asked if she believed the women accusing her father of sexual misconduct. “I think it’s a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter,” she said.
Like Mueller, Republicans who control the Hill committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election have declined to call Ivanka Trump for an interview. Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, do not buy the argument that Ivanka Trump would be of no interest to them or Mueller.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has said that “it would be valuable to have her come and testify.”
Speaking to reporters in January, Schiff added: “if there’s credible information that Ivanka Trump had contact with any of the participants in that meeting at the time of that meeting, she should be brought in.”