Kellyanne Conway used her platform Thursday to urge Americans to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” prompting a wave of backlash for potentially violating ethics rules governing the executive branch.
Standing in the White House press briefing room, Conway, a counselor to the president, encouraged Americans to purchase Ivanka Trump’s products, one day after President Donald Trump himself lashed out at the luxury retailer Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s clothing line.
“It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it,” Conway told “Fox & Friends.” “I fully — I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
Conway’s remark appears to violate the executive branch’s ban on staff endorsing products or companies. The regulation, from the Office of Government Ethics, also prohibits using public office for private gain of oneself or friends or relatives.
Under the regulation, OGE’s director can notify the employee of the violation and ask the agency to investigate. The director can recommend discipline, including suspension, loss of pay or termination, but would probably just issue a warning for a first offense.
At his daily briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had “been counseled on that subject, and that’s it,” declining to further elaborate on whether the White House believed the counselor to the president had crossed a line.
But lawmakers suggested that it did. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively, wrote in a letter to OGE Director Walter Shaub that Conway’s interview “raised extremely serious concerns.”
“As the director of OGE, you have authority to review potential ethics violations and notify the employee’s agency, which in this case is the White House,” they said. “In this case, there is an additional challenge, which is that the President, as the ultimate disciplinary authority for White House employees, has an inherent conflict of interest since Conway’s statements relate to his daughter’s private business.”
They asked that OGE “review Conway’s statement and act promptly on the basis of your findings,” as well as report back to the House panel with a recommendation for disciplinary action, if necessary.
Cummings earlier Thursday had said in a letter to Chaffetz, “This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position,” and asked for a committee “review and potential disciplinary action.”
Chaffetz seemed to agree, telling The Associated Press that Conway’s remark was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”
“It needs to be dealt with,” Chaffetz had said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
A host of liberal, progressive and nonpartisan advocacy groups filed complaints against Conway, including the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed its complaint with both OGE and the White House Counsel’s Office.
“Ms. Conway appears to have violated both the letter and the spirit of these rules when she used her position to endorse the accessories and clothing line of Ms. Trump, the daughter of the president,” the CREW complaint says. “Furthermore, we are concerned about what appears to be a pattern developing of the use of official offices, particularly the White House and the Executive Office of the President, to benefit business interests of relatives and supporters of the president; Ms. Conway’s comments appear to be just the latest example of this trend.”
Ordinarily, a violation in the White House would be dealt with by the White House counsel. But it’s not clear how the regulation will be enforced under a president who, based on his own statement Wednesday, seems likely to approve of what Conway said. (The president himself is technically exempt from the regulation, but White House policy has long applied it to him.)
Likely sparked by Conway’s remark, web traffic to the OGE’s website surged Thursday to the point that it became inaccessible for much of the day. On Twitter, the office wrote that “OGE’s website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.” The office later added that it “does not have investigative or enforcement authority.”
An OGE spokesman said the agency was “looking at ways to redirect traffic and add capacity” to make its website accessible again.
Citing declining sales for Ivanka Trump’s label, Nordstrom announced earlier this month that it would no longer carry her line, a move that sparked anger from Donald Trump, who tweeted Wednesday that his daughter had “been treated so unfairly” by the department store.
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have been highly visible members of the administration since Donald Trump took office just under three weeks ago. The president’s daughter accompanied him to Dover Air Force Base last week for the return of the remains of a Navy SEAL killed during a raid in Yemen and has advised him on policy issues, including the environment and parental leave.
Conway told Fox News she found it “ironic that you’ve got some executives all over the internet bragging about what they’ve done to [Ivanka] and her line.”
“Yet, they’re using the most prominent woman in Donald Trump’s — you know, most prominent — she’s his daughter, and they’re using her, who has been a champion for women empowerment, women in the workplace, to get to him,” she continued. “I think people could see through that. Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping. I’m going to go get some myself today.”
While Nordstrom claimed that the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and shoes was based solely on business, at least some of the decline in sales of her products could be attributed to the #GrabYourWallet campaign urging consumers to boycott Trump products.
Nordstrom also hasn’t shied away from voicing opposition to Trump’s policies, releasing a statement in support of immigrants in the wake of the president’s executive order temporarily banning individuals from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. in the name of national security. The retailer announced its decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line three days after releasing that statement.
On Fox News, Conway called Ivanka Trump a “very successful businesswoman” and an “incredibly confident, creative, talented woman” and indicated that should be welcomed into a role at the White House to work on women’s empowerment issues, if she so chooses.
“Obviously, she’s stepped away from it now, but in the past she’s helped to run her family’s real estate empire, and on the side she developed another fully, unbelievably, entrepreneurial, wildly successful business that bears her name,” Conway added. “And I think she’s gone from 800 stores to 1,000 stores or 1,000 places where you can buy — you can certainly buy her goods online. She’s just at a very good place.”