Experts: Top Aide 'Plain and Simple' Broke Ethics Law by Promoting Trump Brand
'The Trump family is clearly using the White House to financially benefit their family. Where does this end?'
Updated 5pm EDT:
The Office of Government Ethics was apparently swarmed with calls and emails from outraged citizens on Thursday after White House advisor Kellyanne Conway urged individuals to buy Ivanka Trump's products.
In a series of tweets, the OGE said that its "website, phone system, and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events" and said that it "does not have investigative or enforcement authority," though it has "provided guidance" to the relevant agency.
That outrage also seemingly prompted a reprimand from the White House. During the daily press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that Conway "has been counseled, and that's all we are going to go with. She's been counseled on the subject, and that's it."
House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)—not known for being tough on Trump's business conflicts—also called the comments "unacceptable" and said that the committee would refer Conway to the OGE for an investigation.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, it seems, "crossed a very bright line" when she openly encouraged people to "go buy Ivanka's stuff" after President Donald Trump slammed Nordstrom department store for dropping his daughter's fashion line.
Appearing on "Fox & Friends" on Thursday, Conway told viewers, "Go buy Ivanka's stuff. I hate shopping, I will go get some myself today," before adding, "I'm going to give a free commercial here."
§ 2635.702 Use of public office for private gain.
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.
"This is jaw-dropping to me," exclaimed Don W. Fox, former general counsel and former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, to The Washington Post. "This rule has been promulgated by the federal Office of Government Ethics as part of the Standards of Conduct for all executive branch employees and it applies to all members of the armed forces as well."
Brookings Institution fellow and former White House ethics chief Norm Eisen agreed, saying Thursday that Conway broke the law "plain and simple."
"Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
And Robert Weissman, president of the government watchdog Public Citizen, declared in a statement, "Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered. Kellyanne Conway's self-proclaimed advertisement for the Ivanka Trump fashion line demonstrates again what anyone with common sense already knew: President Trump and the Trump administration will use the government apparatus to advance the interests of the family businesses."
Citing the federal statute, Public Citizen on Thursday called for an official ethics investigation.
Even Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer, whom the Post notes "has worked closely with Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon," said the Trump administration has "crossed a very, very important bright line, and it's not good. To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop."
Conway's comments came a day after the president tweeted his outrage over Nordstrom treating "[m]y daughter Ivanka...so unfairly."
Perhaps equally troubling, however, is that the person charged with overseeing such conflicts of interest, House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), said that Trump's remarks were not "a big deal."
When asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday if its ethical "for the President to be commenting about his daughter's business like this?" Chaffetz responded: "I think most people can relate to the fact that a father, a doting father with very successful children is going to look after those children and, you know, if he sees something going wrong, he's going to call it out."
Seriously, can we get anyone else to run the House Oversight Committee? A cocker spaniel? Maybe a bag of gravel? pic.twitter.com/oXiP63fjwo
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 8, 2017
Meanwhile, it appears that several other retailers, including T.J. Maxx, are also preparing to drop the first daughter's fashion line prompting many to wonder what more the White House will do in return.
"[W]hat message is this sending to any company that declines to do business with the Trump Organization?" the Daily Kos' Jen Hayden asked. "If you are a retailer selling Donald Trump's (made in Asia) ties or his (made in Mexico) suits and sales are tanking, will the President of the United States use power of the the White House to publicly go after you? After all, yesterday the president's own spokesman referred to Nordstrom's decision to stop carrying the Ivanka Trump line (due to lackluster sales) as a 'direct attack' on Donald Trump and his policies."
"The Trump family is clearly using the White House to financially benefit their family," Hayden added. "Where does this end?"