Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway appears to have violated a federal ethics rule by going on “Fox and Friends” Thursday and urging viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s products -- and ethics watchdogs and politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking her to task for it.
In the interview in question, Conway was discussing Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line from its stores, which President Donald Trump decried on Twitter as treating Ivanka “so unfairly.”
“I’m gonna just going to give a free commercial here,” Conway said in the interview. ”Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
According to a statute from the Office of Government Ethics, a federal employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the committee’s GOP chairman requesting that the committee look into possible disciplinary action against Conway.
“This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position,” Cummings wrote. “Since the Committee has direct jurisdiction over the ethics laws applicable to White House employees, I request that the Committee make an official referral of this matter to the Office of Government Ethics and request that it report back to the Committee as soon as possible with its findings.”
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Cummings sent a joint letter to OGE on the issue, saying her comments raised “very serious concerns” and calling on OGE to review the situation and recommend possibly disciplinary action against her.
“In this case, Conway’s statements from the White House using her official title could appear to constitute an explicit endorsement and advertisement for Ivanka Trump’s personal business activities,” they wrote.
And the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on Thursday filed a complaint against Conway, stating that she “appears to have violated” federal ethics regulations with her comments.
“As the law makes clear, public officials should not use their offices for either their own private gain or the private gain of others,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder wrote in the complaint. “Government resources should be used for public purposes, not to promote any private party’s products. Ms. Conway appears to have violated both the letter and the spirit of these rules when she used her position to endorse the accessories and clothing line of Ms. Trump, the daughter of the president.”
But enforcement -- and punishment -- for violating these rules largely falls to the head of the federal agency in question. In this case, that would be the White House.
Asked about the issue during his daily briefing with reporters, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said only that Conway “has been counseled on that subject, and that’s it.”