Experts: Kellyanne Conway may have broken ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s business

Experts: Kellyanne Conway may have broken ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s business
Kellyanne Conway listens during the daily White House briefing. (AP/Evan Vucci)

As several department stores, including Nordstrom, have announced they are either scaling back or dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line entirely, Kellyanne Conway directed Fox News’ viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” early Thursday morning.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you,” Conway, senior advisor to President Donald Trump, said from the White House briefing room. “I hate shopping, but I’m going to go get some for myself today.”

But Conway’s “free commercial” for Ivanka Trump’s brand on “Fox and Friends” could have violated federal ethics law, according to multiple federal ethics experts.

Chris Lu, former deputy Secretary of Labor, highlighted in a tweet Thursday morning a section of the standards of ethical conduct for employees of the executive branch. In the tweet, he tagged chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

The highlighted portion states:

An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives.

Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer to former President George W. Bush and a professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota, told TheBlaze that he did not want to accuse Conway of “doing anything illegal.”

However, he did say that 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.”

“That was strictly forbidden in the Bush administration because it is illegal,” Painter said.

And Don W. Fox, a former general counsel and former acting director for the Office of Government Ethics, told the Washington Post that 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.”

“This is jaw-dropping to me,” Fox said. “This rule has been promulgated by the federal Office of Government Ethics as part of the Standards of Conduct for all executive branch employees, and it applies to all members of the armed forces as well.”

Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, tweeted that Conway may have violated ethics laws as well.

The progressive American Bridge PAC called for Conway’s firing Thursday morning as its president, Jessica Mackler, accused Conway of “using the presidency to get richer while selling out the American people.”

Mackler said Conway “blatantly violated the law” Thursday morning by promoting Ivanka Trump’s business.

“She must be held accountable for this brazen violation — it is time for Donald Trump to tell her, ‘you’re fired,'” she said.

And Robert Weissman, president of the liberal Public Citizen advocacy group, said Thursday:

Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered.

Kellyanne Conway’s self-proclaimed advertisement for the Ivanka Trump fashion line demonstrates again what anyone with common sense already knew: President Trump and the Trump administration will use the government apparatus to advance the interests of the family businesses.

Voters in the 2016 elections who worried about the interplay of business and government now must stand appalled and watch the integration of the Trump businesses and control of government.

Trump himself has criticized Nordstrom on Twitter for discontinuing the line — a move which Democrats have questioned as well.

But as Buzzfeed previously reported, other retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Belk have also ceased selling the merchandise. Like Nordstrom, those retailers contend that the line was discontinued due to its sales performance.

In a statement, Nordstrom said:

Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now. We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team.

According to the New York Times, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls instructed employees to discard Ivanka Trump signs and “mix” the brand into racks with other products.

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