Top Democrat on House oversight panel: Kellyanne Conway was in 'blatant' violation of ethics rules

"It was very blatant," Rep. Cummings of Maryland said.

February 12, 2017, 1:09 PM

— -- The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s public pitch for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line was a "blatant" violation of federal ethics rules.

"This was a textbook case of violation" of the rules, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" on Sunday. "You cannot go out there as an employee of the government and advertise for [Ivanka] Trump or anybody else and their products. You can't do that."

Conway, a counselor to President Donald Trump, responded in an interview on Fox News on Thursday to a recent decision by some retailers to stop carrying Ivanka Trump's line of clothing and accessories.

"This is just a wonderful line," Conway said. "I own some of it, I fully — I'm going to give a free commercial here," Conway said. "Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."

Cummings and the House Oversight Committee's GOP chairman, Jason Chaffetz, sent a joint letter Thursday to the Office of Government Ethics asking it to review Conway's comments.

"Conway's statements appear to violate federal ethics regulations," they state in the letter. "In this case, Conway's statements from the White House using her official title could appear to constitute an explicit endorsement and advertisement for Ivanka Trump's personal business activities." The letter asks the office to "act promptly" to send the committee its recommendation on what "appropriate disciplinary action (such as reprimand, suspension, demotion or dismissal) be brought against the office or employee."

Federal ethics rules bar executive branch employees from endorsing products and using their public office for the private gain of friends or family members.

Stephanopoulos asked Cummings about White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s remarks earlier on "This Week" on Sunday that Conway had given a lighthearted, flippant response that has been blown out of proportion by the media.

Cummings said, "That's just absolutely not true. It was not flippant. As a matter of fact, she said, she made it clear, 'I am going to give some free advertisement today for Ivanka Trump.'"

"It was wrong," he said.

Asked by Stephanopoulos what disciplinary action he thinks should be taken, Cummings said it is up to the Office of Government Ethics to "see how blatant this was."

"I personally think it was very blatant," the congressman said. "I think it was intentional."

Cummings said the ethics office will "make a recommendation" but that any decision on the matter is up to Donald Trump.

"The problem here, George, is that the person who will mete out the punishment, if you will, will be the president. And it seems as if this may not be a big deal to him, but it is a big deal to me, and it is a big deal to Chairman Chaffetz."

Stephanopoulos also asked Cummings about recent public criticism of another White House senior staff member, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who, according to ABC News sources, spoke to Moscow's ambassador about U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump took office. The conversation occurred at the time President Obama was hitting Russia with new sanctions for its alleged hacking and interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Flynn's alleged discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador raises legal questions about private citizens engaging in diplomacy that could undermine the intent of a sitting president.

Cummings was asked by Stephanopoulos whether he agrees with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that Flynn's security clearance should be revoked, pending the conclusion of an investigation into the matter.

"Yes, I think that's an appropriate action," Cummings said on "This Week." "But, George, there's something else that needs to be asked. That is, did the president instruct Gen. Flynn to talk to the ambassador? And did he know about it? If he knew about this conversation, when did he know it? That, to me, that is the key question. And we need to find out what that answer is."

Cummings remarked on Vice President Mike Pence's public statement in January that Flynn did not discuss sanctions in his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

"Then for Gen. Flynn to be walking that back — that's not good enough," Cummings said. "He is the national security adviser. He is supposed to be the one to make sure that these kinds of things don't happen. And here he is, embroiled in all of this."

"I think it's going to be very interesting to see what happens over the next week. I would be very interested to know how the vice president feels after he was basically thrown under the bus," Cummings said.

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