Standing in the White House briefing room with a White House seal behind her, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Thursday told Fox News viewers to go buy items from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.
“This is just a wonderful line,” Conway told Fox & Friends, one day after her boss complained on Twitter that Nordstrom had decided to stop carrying his daughter’s line in its department stores. “I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to just give it a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
This wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Conway began her infomercial for Ivanka by pivoting from a conversation about Donald Trump’s policy goals with this segue: “You asked about Ivanka.” (A few minutes earlier one of the Fox News hosts mentioned that it was a topic he hoped to get to.)
Conway’s sales pitch appears to be a rather clear violation of ethics rules for administrative employees. Specifically, the one that reads:
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 private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations.
Conway isn’t the first White House staffer to tout a Trump-branded company from the White House. At one of his first official briefings, White House spokesman Sean Spicer declared that the new Trump hotel in Washington was “absolutely stunning,” and added: “I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by.” Conway’s comments, though, went even further and were an explicit plug to actually purchase products that would financially benefit members of the Trump family.
Ivanka Trump, like her father, has said that she’s no longer involved in the day-to-day business operations of the Trump Organization and similarly has distanced herself from her eponymous fashion brand. But, like her father, her name nonetheless remains firmly and inextricably linked with both the family business and many of the things it sells. Conway barely bothered to draw a distinction between the Trump business and the Trump administration on Thursday. At one point during her promotional plug, she began to refer to Ivanka as “the most prominent woman in Donald Trump’s, you know” before catching herself. Ivanka is, Conway corrected herself, the “most prominent—she’s his daughter.”
Update, Feb. 9, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the ethics watchdog that previously filed a lawsuit claiming President Trump violated the U.S. Constitution's emolument clause, has registered a formal complaint with the Office of Government Ethics over Conway’s comments. CREW claims Conway appears to have violated "the letter and the spirit" of White House ethics rules, the latest in a series of similar actions by the Trump team. The group is asking OGE to launch an investigation into the matter and to take disciplinary action against Conway if necessary. "We hope you will act not only to respond to this apparent violation, but to reverse this pattern," CREW wrote. According to the Department of Justice's online guide for government employees, the violation of ethics regulations “could lead to reprimand, suspension, demotion, or even removal, depending on the circumstances.”
Previously in Slate: