'Go buy Ivanka's stuff': Kellyanne Conway may have broken ethics laws
This Dec. 1, 2016 file photo shows Kellyanne Conway prior to a forum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Published Thursday, February 9, 2017 3:00PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 9, 2017 6:26PM EST
U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway may have just broken a federal ethics rule after she publicly promoted Ivanka Trump’s fashion line during a televised interview on Thursday morning.
Speaking to the hosts of “Fox & Friends” about U.S. department store Nordstrom dropping the Ivanka’s clothing and accessory line and public calls to boycott her products, Conway defended the president’s daughter. She described Ivanka as a “champion for women empowerment, women in the workplace” before she made a direct appeal to her audience.
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Conway declared. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here, go buy it today everybody. You can find it online.”
In response to the counselor’s comments, the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and White House Counsel’s Office on Thursday.
The group called on the offices to investigate “this apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations, and other standards of conduct” and to take necessary disciplinary action.
“The law is clear that public officials should not use their offices for their own private gain or the private gain of others,” CREW’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder, stated in a press release on Thursday. “It’s hard to find a clearer case of that kind of misuse of office than we saw today.”
The president is not subject to ethics standards for federal employees, but Conway is, however. U.S. federal ethics regulations state that an “employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the personal gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”
In addition to CREW’s formal complaint, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Elijah Cummings, requested an ethics review of Conway’s comments for “potential disciplinary action.”
In a letter sent to Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Cummings wrote that Conway’s televised pitch “appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws.” He also recommended the Committee make an official referral to the OGE about whether Conway broke ethics laws because it has direct jurisdiction over White House employees.
Under a section of regulations called “Corrective Action Involving Individual Employees,” the OGE can recommend disciplinary actions such as, suspension, loss of pay and even removal.
During a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary and communications director, Sean Spicer, would only say that Conway had been “counselled” when he was asked about the Fox interview.
“She’s been counselled on that subject and that’s it,” Spicer said.
The Conway controversy comes a day after Trump raised eyebrows by tweeting that his daughter had been treated “unfairly” by Nordstrom. Although the president has tweeted about other companies such as, Boeing, Carrier and General Motors in the past, the Nordstrom tweet has been viewed as a potential conflict of interest because it involves his daughter.
“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” the president wrote.
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
Trump’s tweet prompted his supporters to declare their support for Ivanka’s business by using the hashtag #BuyIvanka, which was trending on Wednesday.
Critics also made use of the hashtag, with at least one tweet highlighting the overseas origin of some of the brand’s products.
The Trump administration has faced repeated criticism for an apparent lack of concern over possible conflicts of interest over his personal business empire. In the complaint filed by CREW, Bookbinder called Conway’s comments another example of “a disturbing pattern” in Trump’s White House.
“Americans are unfortunately at the point where they have to question who the Trump administration is looking out for, the American people or the Trump family,” Bookbinder said.