Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, drew the condemnation of ethics experts, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee—and perhaps even her fellow staffers on Thursday for imploring Fox News viewers to “go buy Ivanka [Trump]’s stuff.”
“This is just a wonderful line,” Conway said during the appearance, which was filmed in the White House briefing room. “I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
This came just a day after ethics experts questioned whether it was appropriate for the President of the United States and his press secretary to be condemning the retailing giant Nordstrom for its decision to drop Ivanka’s line of clothing.
Conway’s actions were much more of a clear-cut problem, according to government ethics experts. Even those friendly to the administration, including Peter Schweizer, who has worked with senior White House adviser Steve Bannon, were worried about the incident.
“They’ve crossed a very, very important bright line, and it’s not good,” he told The Washington Post. “To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop.”
Federal ethics rules dictate that an employee of the executive branch “shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”
Conway made a clear endorsement, Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Beast.
"It is a violation of federal ethics regulations prohibiting use of public office for private gain for any government employee in an official speech, an official capacity TV interview or any similar communication to promote the products or services of a particular private business belonging to the employee's own family, the President's family, a friend, a campaign contributor or anyone else,” Painter said in an email. “That was strictly forbidden in the Bush administration because it is illegal."
A few hours after that report, during the daily White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Conway had been “counseled,” about her segment. He didn’t offer further information and the White House has not responded to The Daily Beast for a request for further comment.
But the White House’s hand may be forced soon.
Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a statement on Thursday that Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line was “unacceptable” and “clearly over the line.” An aide to Representative Elijah Cummings, a ranking member on the committee, then confirmed to The Daily Beast that Cummings and Chaffetz are drafting a letter to send to the White House and the Office of Government Ethics.
“As we understand it, the question for OGE will be what penalty OGE would recommend,” Aryele Bradford, deputy communications director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told The Daily Beast. She provided some examples for potential consequences to The Daily Beast including the policy for Customs and Border Protection which “has a 14-day suspension to removal for using public office for private gain.”
The letter, obtained by The Daily Beast on Thursday evening, said, “Conway’s statements appear to violate federal ethics regulations.”
Cummings and Chaffetz requested that Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, “review potential ethics violations” and to “notify the employee’s agency” which is the White House in this scenario.
The letter also pointed to President Trump’s “inherent conflict of interest” with the statement because it pertained to a member of his family, a fact which may render him unable to settle the issue himself.
As a result, the two lawmakers asked that the OGE “use authority Congress granted to you under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978” which allows the agency to recommend to the White House that Conway be reprimanded in the form of potential “suspension, demotion or dismissal.”
But for now, OGE’s first order of business may be coping with the barrage of phone calls they’re getting from citizens.
According to the agency’s Twitter account, the office is receiving “an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.”