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How the president’s daughter fits into his administration

WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump tried to travel to South Korea as the president’s envoy — but she could not escape also being his celebrity daughter.

She peppered National Security Council experts in advance with questions, not just about the nuclear threat, but also about South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife’s hobbies. Flying over the Pacific bound for the Winter Olympic Games last month, she pored over a research dossier for hours. And she and her team choreographed many of the possible encounters she might have, including acting out what she would do if a North Korean official tried to shake her hand.

“I don’t like to leave a lot up to fate,” President Donald Trump’s 36-year-old daughter, also a senior White House adviser, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Ivanka Trump likes to be in complete control — over-prepared and deliberate — in contrast to her freewheeling and impulsive father.

But at the moment, Ivanka – whose first name has become a brand identity – controls increasingly little of the world in which she inhabits. The White House is careening from crisis to crisis. Her colleagues are leaking damaging anecdotes about her and husband Jared Kushner. Tensions between the couple and chief of staff John Kelly are intensifying. And all the while, the dark legal cloud hanging over her family is threatening to unleash a downpour.

By many accounts, her trip to South Korea was a success and arguably helped lay the groundwork for her father’s surprise decision Thursday to talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But she ran into trouble for her response to a question by NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander about whether she believes the accusations of sexual misdeeds against her father from more than a dozen women – first saying it was “inappropriate” to ask because she is the president’s daughter, then ultimately answering that she did not believe them.

Ivanka’s response, and the ensuing scrutiny, illustrated how she attempts to navigate her dual role as both daughter and senior adviser. It also served as a fresh reminder of the control she relinquished when she shifted from principal – running her own apparel business and shaping her own brand – to West Wing staffer carrying the public messages of an administration with which she does not always agree.

“I am the daughter of the president. I am also an adviser to the president,” she said. “And I respect that in that role I must work incredibly diligently to follow protocol as any other staffer would.”

This portrait of Ivanka after a year in the White House comes from interviews with more than a dozen administration officials, lawmakers and outside confidants, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a more candid assessment. Ivanka also sat down with The Post in her office on the West Wing’s second floor – a tucked-away modernist oasis of bright white and clean lines – for two interviews on back-to-back days in late February, portions of which were off the record.

Ivanka, a business executive and mother of three, entered the administration as a floating adviser. In her first year, she worked to help secure congressional votes and public support for the Republican tax plan – including pushing for expansion of the childhood tax credit – and has championed paid family leave, science and technology education, and other issues.

But in recent months, the strain between her and Kelly has deepened, White House officials said. Kelly – who Ivanka and her husband, also a senior adviser, initially pushed for chief of staff – has grown frustrated with what he views as the duo’s desire to have it both ways: behaving as West Wing officials in one moment, family members the next. He has griped to colleagues about what he views as her “freelancing” on “pet projects” as opposed to the administration’s stated top priorities.

Ivanka argues that every issue she has championed is also a policy her father campaigned on and pushed in office. Paid family leave, for instance, is far from a Republican rallying cry, but it is something Trump mentioned on the campaign trail and in both of his addresses to Congress.

Last year, she invited female senators to the White House for personal huddles on the issue.

“She spent an hour meeting with me, going over the studies, making the case,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said. “She had a couple of staffers, but she really ran the discussion. I was impressed with how smart she was and how informed she was and how passionate she was about a cause that is not closely associated with Republican leaders. I just really liked her, right off the bat.”

The president himself has exacerbated the tensions between his chief of staff and his family. He has mused to Kelly that he thinks Ivanka and her husband should perhaps return to New York, where they would be protected from the blood sport of Washington and less of a target for negative media attention, White House officials said. In the president’s eyes, “Ivanka’s still his little girl,” as one confidant put it.

But Trump has at other times urged Ivanka and Kushner to remain in Washington, telling them he relies on their counsel in the West Wing. Others say he values her singular role as an ambassador for both his presidency and the family brand.

“Everybody loves and respects Ivanka,” the president said in a statement. “She works very hard and always gets the job done in a first class manner. She was crucial to our success in achieving historic tax cuts and reforms and served as my envoy in South Korea, where she was incredibly well received. Her work on behalf of American families has made a real impact.”

Ivanka’s last name creates an aura of invincibility around her within the White House. In private, some aides criticize and share unflattering details about her – and, more acutely, Kushner – but are loathe to do so publicly and risk the president’s wrath.

Ivanka and Kushner have become known simply as “Javanka,” a nickname that they view as disparaging and that they speculate was coined in the early stage of the presidency by rivals, such as then-chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, to undermine them. Ivanka resents that she and her husband are seen as a single unit, in part because their work portfolios are different. (Kushner’s declared portfolio includes brokering Middle East peace, the U.S. relationship with Mexico and domestic prison restructuring.)

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