In January 2019, Jim Yong Kim threw the global financial development sector into a state of disarray: The former academic and health official announced he would be stepping down the following month from his role as president of the World Bank, opting instead for a cushier gig at a Wall Street private equity firm. For an institution that was already struggling with heightened competition from China and private capital, Kim’s departure — which came as a total surprise — was seen as a setback, as it handed an opportunity to choose a new leader to President Donald Trump, creating worries that the America First champion would pick somebody ill suited for the global role.
As the White House moved to select its new leader, one name very dear to Trump’s heart kept floating around: his daughter Ivanka Trump. That never came to fruition, though, with Ivanka later telling reporters that though her father had raised the subject, she declined to pursue the position as she was “happy with the work” she was doing as his senior adviser.
Ivanka Trump did, however, aid Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in the selection process. When the Treasury Department announced Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs David Malpass as the World Bank’s new president, Ivanka released a statement predicting Malpass would be “an extraordinary leader of the World Bank.” (Malpass was in fact a controversial pick, due in large part to his past criticisms of the World Bank.)
But two sources, not authorized to speak publicly, tell The Intercept the talk of Ivanka at the helm went far beyond the realm of Beltway chatter: Trump very much wanted Ivanka as World Bank president, and it was Mnuchin who actually blocked her ascent to the leadership role.
“It came incredibly close to happening,” said one well-placed source.
Representatives for Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the World Bank or the Trump Organization.
Since the World Bank’s creation in 1944, the U.S. has always led the prerogative to name the bank’s president in an informal agreement with European leaders, who are given the job of naming the head of the International Monetary Fund (an arrangement that rather bluntly underscores the Western imperial nature of the international financial institutions).
Prior to her role at White House adviser, Ivanka spent 12 years at the Trump Organization as executive vice president of development and acquisitions. She also launched her own line of fashion products which, according to 2019 financial disclosures, reportedly brought in between $100,000 and $1,000,000 in rent or royalties.
Once in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Ivanka helped launch the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, colloquially known as the “Ivanka Fund”: a World Bank-supported project to raise money for female entrepreneurs in developing nations. It was her work on the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative that White House spokesperson Jessica Ditto cited in explaining Ivanka’s qualification for selecting the next World Bank leader. “She’s worked closely with the World Bank’s leadership for the past two years,” Ditto said.
But that initiative still left her pretty light on experience. “That’s a very thin base to try to establish credibility in this multilateral institution,” said Scott Morris, director of the U.S. development policy program at the Center for Global Development in D.C. “It’s hard to imagine that she would have been viewed as a credible leader. It would be the worst kind of exercise of U.S. power. I have to think as a candidate she would have encountered some resistance. But maybe [the bank’s members] would not have wanted to provoke the U.S. president.”
From the moment her father won the presidential election, Ivanka has been wrapped up in controversy: She falsely testified that she was uninvolved in the 2017 inauguration (a lawsuit alleged that the Inaugural Committee overpaid for event space at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.); she and her husband, fellow presidential adviser Jared Kushner, earned hundreds of millions in outside income while working in the White House; and her Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative was ultimately a flop.
Mnuchin often placed himself between the president and what the Treasury secretary saw as colossally counterproductive moves. His time as a Hollywood producer — making him a representative of the set whose approval Trump craved — gave him influence that others in the administration lacked. He pushed Trump to name Jerome Powell as head of the Federal Reserve and routinely talked him out of random government shutdowns. His successful effort to talk Trump into backing and signing the CARES Act was among his other significant achievements. He also had a habit of dodging responsibility for Trump’s worst excesses. On January 6, he made sure that he was in Sudan.
But given that there’s a growing discontent among the World Bank’s member nations over the U.S.’s unilateral ability to nominate the institution’s leadership, the Ivanka saga could serve as a warning against the status quo. “A growing number of countries don’t like this whole arrangement,” said Morris. “For them to hear how close it was to being the U.S. president’s daughter probably adds fuel to the fire that the Americans are so cavalier about this.”