Did Kellyanne Conway's plug for Ivanka Trump violate ethics rules? Lawmakers seek ethics probe
Kellyanne Conway. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
Updated: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—along with legal experts and good-government groups—are raising concerns about a statement by Kellyanne Conway on Thursday in which she urged consumers to buy Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Elijah Cummings of Maryland—the committee’s ranking Democrat—in a letter asked the Office of Government Ethics to review Conway’s statements and consider possible discipline, NBC reported.
Conway’s statement appears to violate federal ethics rules that bar executive branch employees from using their office for their private gain or “for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise,” experts told the New York Times, NBC News and the Washington Post. Conway’s title is counselor to the president.
Conway urged Fox and Friends viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” a day after President Donald Trump criticized Nordstrom’s decision to drop his daughter’s clothing line in tweets from his personal and White House account.
Conway said during the interview that Ivanka Trump has a wonderful clothing line. “I own some of it. I fully, I’m gonna just going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
Public Citizen and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics are asking for an investigation by the Office of Government Ethics, according to press releases here and here. The OGE can investigate and make recommendations, but sanctions are largely within the discretion of the supervisory agency—which would be the White House, according to the Post.
Typically an ethics rule violation results in a letter of reprimand, according to Lawrence Noble, a former top lawyer and ethics officer at the Federal Election Commission. Termination could be a possibility, and in rare cases, a violation could be referred to the Justice Department, he told the New York Times.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been “counseled” after she made the remarks.
Don Fox, a former general counsel and acting director for the ethics office, called Conway’s statement “jaw-dropping.”
“Conway’s encouragement to buy Ivanka’s stuff would seem to be a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain,” he told the Washington Post.
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe agreed with that assessment. “You couldn’t think of a clearer example of violating the ban of using your government position as kind of a walking billboard for products or services offered by a private individual,” he told the New York Times.
Updated at 5:38 p.m. to note the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee action.