Office of Government Ethics asks White House to investigate Kellyanne Conway

Conway has been under fire for promoting Ivanka Trump's products.

ByADAM KELSEY
February 14, 2017, 6:33 PM

— -- The Office of Government Ethics is calling on the White House to investigate the actions of counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, less than a week after she appeared on television and promoted the apparel and accessories brand owned by Ivanka Trump -- saying there's "strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct."

Walter M. Shaub, Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent a letter Monday to Stefan Passantino, the designated agency ethics official at the White House, recommending that an inquiry be made and asking the administration to “consider taking disciplinary action against her.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The letter was released Tuesday by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which previously wrote OGE to request that the office look into Conway’s statements. In an additional letter from Shaub to Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah and Elijah Cummings, D-Marlyand, the chairman and ranking member of the oversight committee, the director notes that his recommendation to the White House constitutes the extent of his office’s powers at this point.

The issue was first raised last week after Conway appeared on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” and was asked about the decision of the Nordstrom department store to no longer carry Ivanka Trump products.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” said Conway during the interview on Thursday. “This is just a wonderful line. I own some of it… I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Conway gave the remote interview from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room with the White House seal visible behind her. Government ethics laws prohibit government employees from using their position or authority “to endorse any product.”

The president also took issue with Nordstrom's move, saying his daughter had been treated "unfairly" by the company.

Following the interview Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been “counseled” on the issue but refused to offer additional comment.

Spicer also said that the president had "every right" to defend his daughter because "this is a direct attack on his policies and her name." Nordstrom said the move was based on "performance."

“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,” wrote Shaub to Passantino. “ I note that OGE's regulation on misuse of position offers as an example the hypothetical case of a Presidential appointee appearing in a television commercial to promote a product. Ms. Conway's actions track that example almost exactly.”

In his letter to Chaffetz and Cummings, Shaub explains that there are limits on OGE to address conflicts itself and therefore relies on federal agencies to discipline their own employees, hence his letter to the White House. The director did explain though that his office is able notify the president if they feel an agency has failed “to take appropriate disciplinary action.”

“However, such notice would be ineffective in this case because any decision not to take disciplinary action will have been made by the President,” wrote Shaub of Conway’s position as a subordinate of Trump’s.

In addition to Nordstrom’s move two weeks ago, Neiman Marcus announced it too will no long carry Ivanka Trump products, and employees at discount stores T.J. Maxx and Marshalls were reportedly asked to remove displays that featured the line.

Both Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom cited the performance of the brand and “productivity” for their decisions, while TJX Companies, which owns T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, said the rotation of of the merchandise was part of a standard mixing of their products.

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