Ethics Agency Says ‘Reason to Believe’ Conway Broke Rules

  • Trump’s aide urged people to buy his daughter’s products
  • Agency asked White House to investigate Conway’s remarks

Did Conway's Tout of Trump Goods Break Ethics Rule?

The director of the federal ethics agency said there was “strong reason to believe” that White House aide Kellyanne Conway violated regulations when she urged people on national television to buy Ivanka Trump’s products.

Conway’s remarks in a Feb. 9 appearance on Fox News “would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position,” Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, Jr., wrote to a deputy White House counsel in a letter dated Feb. 13. “Therefore I recommend that the White House investigate Ms. Conway’s actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her.” Shaub shared that letter with members of Congress and released it to the public on Tuesday.

Conway’s unusual product endorsement last week drew quick bipartisan condemnation and criticism from legal specialists, who said it appeared to violate a federal rule barring officials from using their positions to promote private business interests. Shortly after her comments, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that she had been “counseled,” but he declined to elaborate. 

Later the same day, Conway praised President Donald Trump for supporting her, saying that all women should have bosses who treat them “the way the president of the United States treated me today.”

Agency’s Letter

In his letter, Shaub said OGE had contacted the White House on Feb. 9 but had “not yet received notification of any disciplinary or other corrective action against Ms. Conway.” He asked the White House to respond by Feb. 28. The White House press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the same day that Conway made her statements, Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked OGE in a letter to recommend “disciplinary action, if warranted.” The top Democrat on the committee, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, also signed the letter.

In response, Shaub, who had previously criticized President Trump’s decision not to divest from his businesses, laid out his agency’s powers with regard to the alleged violation: If an agency, including the White House, declines to take up a recommendation from OGE, federal ethics officials can launch their own investigation and recommend specific punishment, even though it wouldn’t be binding.

On Feb. 9, following decisions by some retailers including Nordstrom Inc. to stop selling Ivanka Trump’s products, Conway said on Fox News she would do a “free commercial” for the merchandise.

“Go buy it today everybody; you can find it online,” she said.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.