On Tuesday, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics called on the White House to consider disciplining Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway for telling Americans to buy items from Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line while being interviewed from the White House.
Federal employees can’t use their public office to endorse products, according to a section of the standards of conduct for federal employees which the office said Conway violated.
During an interview on Fox & Friends last week, Conway said to the audience, “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
“It’s a wonderful line, I own some of it,” she said. “I’m just gonna give a free commercial here, go buy it today, you can buy it online.” At the time, she was standing in the White House James S. Brady briefing room with the White House seal and American flag behind her, which the ethics office said is proof that she was working in an official capacity.
Deputy Counsel to the President and Designated Agency Ethnics Official Stefan Passantino wrote of the incident:
You previously advised OGE that all new senior White House appointees received their required initial ethics training. OGE’s regulations require that initial ethics training must cover the misuse of position prohibition, as one of four mandatory subjects … She was unquestionably appearing in an official capacity. She used that interview, however, as an opportunity to market Ms. Trump’s products … These facts, if true, would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position … Therefore, I recommend that the White House investigate Ms. Conway’s actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her.
Passantino also noted that the office’s regulation provides an example of a presidential appointee appearing in a television commercial to promote a product and that Conway’s actions “track that example almost exactly.”
Last week, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked for an investigation into Conway’s actions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said he and Cummings would refer her actions to the Office of Government Ethics. This is an unusual move from Chaffetz, who has demurred from calls to investigate Trump’s conflicts of interest.
Former government ethics staff have commented on Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s products and said her remarks were illegal. The ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also called for an investigation last week.
The Office for Government Ethics has made a recommendation, but that is all it can do right now. The White House may or may not choose to follow those recommendations.