Government Ethics Watchdog Urges Trump to Investigate Conway and Consider Disciplining Her

The Office of Government Ethics chief says Trump’s counselor likely broke the law by promoting Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.


The government’s top ethics watchdog sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday stating that Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, almost certainly broke ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line and that the administration should investigate her and consider disciplinary action.

Conway appeared on Fox & Friends last week to discuss the decision by the retail chain Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from its stores. Standing in the White House briefing room in front of a presidential seal, Conway bragged that she owns Ivanka Trump clothing and urged viewers to purchase items from the president’s daughter’s line.

In the letter to Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel to the president and the White House’s designated ethics officer, Office of Government Ethics executive director Walter Shaub cited a rule forbidding executive branch employees from endorsing commercial products and pointed to a hypothetical example written into the regulation that’s nearly identical to Conway’s behavior.

“I note the 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,” Shaub wrote. “Ms. Conway’s actions track that example almost exactly.”

While Democrats in Washington have criticized the Trump administration for a string of potential ethical lapses, Republicans have generally kept quiet. Conway’s comments, however, led to quick criticism from congressional Republicans, including House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, who together with the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, sent a letter to Shaub recommending that he review the incident.

Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Conway had been “counseled” on the incident, but he did not elaborate on what that meant. Shaub, in his letter, said he has not been notified by the White House of any disciplinary action against Conway.

“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,” Shaub wrote.

The decision on whether to discipline Conway rests with the White House. Shaub requested notification by February 28 of any disciplinary action. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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