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White House: Kellyanne Conway ‘counseled’ for plugging Ivanka Trump line

White House plugs Ivanka Trump's brand
White House plugs Ivanka Trump’s brand

The White House says Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Trump, has been “counseled” after she promoted Ivanka Trump’s fashion line in a television interview.

Conway was speaking from the White House briefing room on Thursday morning when she told Fox News Channel that people should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”

A day earlier, the president had attacked Nordstrom department stores for dropping his daughter’s line of clothing and accessories.

Ethics lawyers, lawmakers and government watchdog organizations called for investigations into Conway’s endorsement, and suggested or said outright that she had violated government ethics law.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Conway has been “counseled on that subject, and that’s it.” He did not elaborate.

Conway was appearing on “Fox & Friends” when an interviewer raised the subject of Ivanka Trump. Conway praised the president’s daughter as a “very successful businesswoman” and a “champion for women empowerment,” and offered statistics about how many stores sell her merchandise.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you,” Conway said. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully — I’m going to just, I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Related: Trump’s Nordstrom blast retweeted by @POTUS

Federal law says that public employees may not use their positions “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.”

The office of Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, said he was drafting a letter to federal ethics officials with Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to ask what penalty was appropriate for Conway.

Cummings earlier called the plug “a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position.” Chaffetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization of election law experts, said that in his opinion, Conway “may have violated the law.”

An ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked for the Office of Government Ethics and the White House counsel’s office to look into the “apparent violation of law” and to “take any necessary discipline against her.”

The Office of Government Ethics advises executive branch officials on how to avoid conflicts of interest. Its director harshly criticized Trump last month for his decision to not divest ownership of his business interests.

The office did not return a request for comment, but it said in a series of tweets that it was fielding an “extraordinary volume” of phone calls, emails and web traffic from citizens in response to “recent events.”

The ethics office stressed that it does not have enforcement power, like Congress or the FBI. When it learns of possible ethics violations, it said, it contacts the relevant agency and provides guidance.

1/OGE’s website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.

— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) February 9, 2017

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said he would not address whether any White House official was violating the law.

But he said public officials, when giving speeches or interviews in an official capacity, may not promote the products 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,” he said.

Stan Brand, a former chief legal officer for the House of Representatives, said that Conway’s endorsement appeared to be “technically a violation.”

He suggested it was doubtful that any law enforcement official would pursue “a single statement like this,” but he said “a pattern or practice of such conduct could become a problem.”

Nordstrom said last week that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing ando accessories because of “brand performance.” An online campaign called #GrabYourWallet has encouraged shoppers to boycott Ivanka Trump merchandise.

In addition, the company that owns TJ Maxx and Marshalls said that it recently sent a memo to workers instructing them not to highlight the Ivanka Trump brand in stores. It did not provide a reason for those instructions.

And the Belk department store chain said it plans to pull Ivanka Trump products from its website, but will continue to offer them in stores. Belk said the decision was a response to customer feedback.

On Wednesday, Trump tore into Nordstrom for mistreating his daughter.

“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” he tweeted.

The message was retweeted by the official presidential Twitter account, @POTUS, and raised eyebrows among ethics lawyers.

Noble said the president’s tweet was “totally out of line.”

“He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings,” Noble said Wednesday.

The rules on endorsements by public officials exempt the president and vice president.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, defended the president’s use of the @POTUS handle to discuss his daughter’s business.

“This was less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

–CNNMoney’s Cristina Alesci and CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

CNNMoney (New York) First published February 9, 2017: 9:56 AM ET



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