A day after President Donald Trump pulled some shady business shenanigans regarding his daughter’s fashion brand, White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway threw her support behind Ivanka Trump.
During an interview with Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, Conway hawked Ivanka’s line multiple times. The bizarre plug happened during a discussion that revolved around President Trump’s recent tweet attack on clothing store chain Nordstrom, which announced on Feb. 2 it would drop Ivanka’s line from its stores.
At one point, Conway transformed from spokesperson for the highest elected office in the United States to commercial pitch-woman, cheerily declaring, “I’m going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today.”
She closed her interview by saying, Go buy Ivankas stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, Im going to go get some myself today.
A question of ethics
Right away, ethics experts began weighing in. On Twitter, attorney Larry Noble cited the law that it appeared Conway had violated.
The federal regulation Noble cites lays it out pretty clearly:
An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, 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, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations.
Scott Amey, with the nonpartisan independent watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO) slammed Conway’s comments, calling them “a clear-cut misuse of position case … a clear-cut violation of the ethics regulation.”
Amey said that the POGO will make a referral to both the Department of Justice and the Office of Government Ethics about today’s comments.
“I think the White House needs to go through a little bit of ethics training.”
“Nobody’s going to jail over this or going to be severely sanctioned,” he said, “but I think the White House needs to go through a little bit of ethics training and understand what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do because they seem to be willing to violate the rules and not isolate themselves from the businesses that President Trump said he would isolate himself from.”
Mashable has also reached out to Noble as well as the Office of Government ethics and the White House for comment.
Later Thursday afternoon, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), requesting an investigation into Conway’s comments, calling them “a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employees government position.”
At his daily White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “Kellyanne has been counseled” and refused to elaborate. Later on Thursday, House Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz said that her promotion of Ivanka’s brand was “clearly over the line, unacceptable,” the Associated Press reported.
The First Lady’s lost “opportunity”
The tussle over the clothing line is just the latest incident of fuzzy business ethics for the First Family that would also seem to violate the clause.
On Monday, First Lady Melania Trump refiled a lawsuit against The Daily Mail, claiming an erroneous story they published about her apparently cost her the chance to leverage her position as First Lady into cold, hard cash.
Trump’s attorneys claimed the story, which incorrectly stated her modeling career was just a front for being an escort, damaged her brand, costing her the opportunity to make millions during “a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … a multi-year term during which [Melania] is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
Trump’s attorney hit back, denying Melania would be using her position for profit: “The First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so.It is not a possibility.Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted.”
“It seems as if the Trump family has blurred their lines between what their role is now as public servants and what their role was when they were in the private sector,” Amey said. “We shouldn’t have anybody coming into the White House that thinks they’re going to trade that public service and the role they play, which is very important in our democracy, and turn that in to a money maker.”
Buzz at the tower
The New York Times also reported this week that the Pentagon was looking at renting out space in Trump’s New York building, which would send government money straight to Trump’s business. Trump’s assertions that he would separate himself from his businesses to prevent him from profiting of the office has been met with a heavy dose of skepticism from ethics experts thus far.
And there was Trump’s tweet about Nordstrom on Wednesday morning. What made Trump’s attack unusual or at least more unusual in the surreal context of the Trump presidency was that Trump also retweeted his attack from the official @POTUS Twitter account.
In an unprecedented presidency, the blurring of these lines by the First Family just makes things even more surreal.
(1:10 p.m. ET) Updated with comments from the Project on Government Oversight and Rep. Cummings’ letter requesting investigation.
(2:15 p.m. ET) Updated with comment from WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer from daily press briefing.
(2:38 p.m. ET) Updated with House Oversight chairman’s comment.