The White House said Tuesday it will not discipline Kellyanne Conway for making what amounted to an infomercial for Ivanka Trump’s clothing last month.
Deputy Counsel to the President, Stefan C. Passantino, sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on February 28, telling the office that the White House rejects their assessment that Conway’s TV appearance on Feb. 9, an improper use of public office to endorse a product, necessitates further action.
“Consistent with this commitment to ethical compliance, the Office of White House Counsel immediately undertook a review of the facts and circumstances surrounding comments made by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, relating to the business interests of the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump….” Passantino wrote in a letter to the OGE provided to The Daily Beast by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“As part of the subsequent review, I have personally met with Ms. Conway to review the Standards of Conduct that employees of the Executive Office of the President are expected to follow, including the provisions relating to the appropriate use of one’s official position,” he continued.
The White House letter concluded that Conway acted “inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.”
Passantino also contends that Conway’s remarks were made without ill intent.
“It is noted that Ms. Conway made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner while attempting to stand up for a person she believed had been unfairly treated and did so without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally,” Passantino wrote. “Both before and after receiving your letter, I personally met with Ms. Conway and advised her that her comments regarding Ms. Trump’s products implicated the prohibition on using one’s official position to endorse any product or service. Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the Standards and has reiterated her commitment to abiding by them in the future.”
The White House has not responded to requests for comment and the OGE confirmed that they had received the letter.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics gave the White House a deadline of February 28 to provide them with a response after a February 14 letter recommended potential disciplinary action for the remarks.
In the initial letter, OGE director Walter Shaub Jr., wrote to Stefan C. Passantino, deputy counsel to the president: “Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted.”
Conway explicitly referred to her remarks as a “commercial” during the segment in question.
“I’m going to give a free commercial here,” Conway said from the White House Briefing Room. “Go buy it today, everybody.”
The remarks drew widespread disapproval from ethics watchdogs and both House Democrats and Republicans, including Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who said the statement was “clearly over the line.”
Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the Oversight Committee, told The Daily Beast that Conway's actions are part of a larger framework of questionable conduct.
"I think what they tried to do, as I read the letter, they tried to say it was sort of jokingly done," Cummings said. "But if I were her boss, I would look at the totality of the circumstances. Knowing that there had been a lot of complaints from members of Congress and good government groups about the Trump family benefiting from the position, the idea that she did it in a way that was just so blatant. It was just like, ‘I’m doing it and this is what I’m doing.’”
“How do you have something that blatant, with somebody who stands to benefit greatly and how do you say to the other people who may do similar things at other departments, it’s ok? I just believe in fairness," Cummings added. "That’s all. I just think it sends the wrong message.”
It is unclear whether there will be further action sought by the Office of Government Ethics.
—Additional reporting by Jackie Kucinich