Ivanka Trump is pulled back into her father's orbit

Two weeks ago, Ivanka Trump was photographed striding into Kim Kardashian's birthday party in Beverly Hills.

On Wednesday, she walked into a Manhattan courthouse to testify in her father's business fraud trial.

The two settings presented a vivid split-screen of the lives of Ms Trump: the one she had before her father became president and to which she has attempted to return, and the thorny reality she now inhabits.

Ms Trump, 42, has spent the years since Donald Trump left the White House publicly distancing herself from her father's orbit. When he announced his new bid for the White House last year, she immediately made clear that she would not join the campaign.

"This time around, I am choosing to prioritise my young children and the private life we are creating as a family. I do not plan to be involved in politics."

Now she finds herself dragged back into the family circus as the New York attorney general pursues a blockbuster civil fraud trial against her father, siblings, and their namesake business the Trump Organization.

And while she did not take the stand as a defendant, the stakes for her personal and professional future could not have been higher.

She sought to distance herself as much as possible from her father's dealings, claiming in a muted monotone that she could "not recall" many aspects of the business with which she'd been intimately involved.

But the tactic might only go so far.

"There's no way that she walks out of this trial further distanced from the controversies surrounding her father," said Dan Alexander, a Forbes editor and author of White House, Inc.: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business.

"It's going to be an uncomfortable place for her, and I don't think that reputationally, it's the direction that she wants to go."

From socialite to shunned

Ivanka Trump built her reputation as a socialite and businesswoman on her father's name.

The Trump brand once conferred wealth, glamour, and success. She appeared on the cover of teen magazines, fashion runways, and red carpets with Chelsea Clinton.

"Ivanka, like her father, is a master of self-promotion," said Mr Alexander, who has reported on the family's business dealings for years. "What she was self-promoting was a different image than her father. Donald Trump is masculine, strong, and quote-unquote self made. Ivanka Trump is feminine and busy and family oriented, but professionally successful."

Ivanka Trump with Kim Kardashian(L)at the White House in 2019.
Ivanka Trump with Kim Kardashian(L)at the White House in 2019.

Ivanka Trump played a major role in developing some of her father's marquee properties, including the Doral golf course in Florida and the Old Post Office hotel in Washington DC that the Trumps redeveloped and owned until 2022.

But during Donald Trump's polarising presidency, her surname took on very different connotations.

After serving as a top campaign surrogate, she joined his administration as a senior adviser. Political watchers had speculated that she would be a moderating voice in her father's ear. She advocated for policies like paid family leave and sentencing reform.

As the most famous Trump sibling, and the one closest to her father's administration, Ms Trump bore the most scrutiny. "Her image changed," Mr Alexander said. "People started to understand she wasn't quite exactly as she had made herself."

Those people, New York's cultural and political elite, seemed at first unlikely to welcome her back to the world she once inhabited when Mr Trump left the White House.

Pre-presidency, Ms Trump once had her own eponymous clothing line. By 2017, Saturday Night Live was caricaturing Ms Trump in a mock advertisement for a perfume called "Complicit."

Ultimately, her political work was overshadowed as the Trump administration was buffeted by scandals, infighting, impeachments, and, to cap it all off, a violent attempt by his supporters to stop his successor from taking office.

A new life in Florida

Ms Trump has kept a lower profile since the end of the administration.

Though rumours occasionally fly that she will run for office, Ms Trump has stayed away from politics. She is not publicly involved in his 2024 campaign like her older brother, Donald Trump Jr, or the family business, like her younger brother Eric.

She and her husband, Jared Kushner, moved their family to an island neighbourhood near Miami, Florida that bears the nickname "Billionaire's Bunker."

Ivanka Trump in Miami in October 2023
Ivanka Trump is often spotted out and about in Miami

Mr Kushner was also a senior adviser to Mr Trump, working on Middle East policy. Like his wife, he has stepped away from politics. However he recently received $2bn for his private equity firm from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

She even seemed to be making inroads back into high society.

In late October, Ms Trump was photographed in a glittering white crop top and side-slit skirt arriving at Ms Kardashian's exclusive birthday party. The reality star posted a photo with Ms Trump and Lauren Sanchez - Jeff Bezos's partner - captioned: "So blessed to have hit the jackpot of friends."

It was the sort of public celebrity embrace that Ms Trump frequently enjoyed in her youth, but had not seen since her father descended down a golden escalator in 2015 to announce his campaign for president.

For a moment, it seemed like Ms Trump's new life would once again come to resemble her old one.

High-stakes testimony

Ms Trump fought hard to separate herself from her father's fraud case.

She retained her own attorney, and successfully petitioned to be dropped as a defendant after New York attorney general Letitia James named her in the suit. She tried to get out of testifying as a third-party witness, citing childcare concerns, but her appeal was denied.

So back to Manhattan she went, to sit before Judge Arthur Engoron and a room full of attorneys and reporters to answer pointed questions about the Trump Organization's financial practices.

Though she could not evade testifying, her responses served to distance herself from the business practices at the company she once helped lead and the deals she helped broker.

The original suit claimed that Ms Trump was deeply involved with the Trump Organization's business, helping them secure real estate deals and loans at the heart of the case. Some of those deals, the attorney general alleges, were based on fraudulently inflated documents.

Her brothers, Don Jr and Eric, had already testified. Both denied having in-depth knowledge of their father's financial statements or the company's accounting practices despite serving as executive vice-presidents of the organisation.

Ms Trump took a similar strategy, but while her brothers were respectively braggadocious and standoffish, her deflections took on a softer, more polished tone.

Under questioning, Ms Trump repeatedly stated she could "not recall" specific details of the loans Deutsche Bank gave her father for his projects, and she did "not recall" the emails she wrote or was copied on, involving said deals.

At one point, she gazed upon a document from over a decade ago, remarking on it as if it was from another lifetime.

"It's bringing back a lot of memories," she said.