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Kellyanne Conway hit with formal ethics complaints over Ivanka Trump ‘commercial’

Uh-oh.

Feb 9, 2017, 9:57 pm*

Tech

 

Andrew Couts

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway may have landed in a heap of trouble for urging Americans to buy Ivanka Trump‘s clothes.

At least two watchdog groups have filed formal ethics complaints against Conway for pitching Trump’s clothing line during an appearance on Fox News Thursday morning. A leading Democratic lawmaker has also formally called for Congress to consider “disciplinary action” against Conway. 

On Thursday’s Fox & Friends, Conway responded to questions about President Donald Trump‘s tweet condemning the Nordstrom department store chain for dropping his daughter’s clothing line because of lowered sales.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would say. I hate shopping—I’m going to buy stuff today,” Conway said. She added. “This is just—it’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Observers quickly noted that Conway had almost certainly violated a federal ethics law that forbids public employees from using their position “for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

While there is little question that Conway violated the ethics rule, enforcement of the rule is up to her employer, the White House.

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), a nonpartisan watchdog nonprofit, responded with a formal ethics complaint with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the White House Counsel’s Office.

“The law is clear that public officials should not use their offices for their own private gain or the private gain of others,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “It’s hard to find a clearer case of that kind of misuse of office than we saw today.”

OGE was not available by phone on Thursday afternoon, and the agency’s website was offline for unknown reasons, potentially due to a flood of traffic from citizens attempting to complain about Conway’s conduct.

The Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump group, also filed a complaint against Conway with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.

“This is not just unethical, it’s disgusting” Scott Dworkin, senior director of the Coalition, said in a statement. “We expect Kellyanne Conway to resign immediately.”

In addition to complaints filed by the civic groups, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the leading Democrat on the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, requested Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee’s chairman, recommend Conway for “potential disciplinary action.”

“This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position,” Cummings wrote in a letter to Chaffetz. “Since the Committee has direct jurisdiction over the ethics laws applicable to White House employees, I request that the Committee make an official referral of this matter to the Office of Government Ethics and request that it report back to the Committee as soon as possible with its findings.”

Chaffetz told reporters on Thursday that Conway’s comments were “clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

Asked about the situation during Thursday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been “counseled” on the matter.

“Kellyanne has been counseled,” Spicer said. “She’s been counseled on that subject and that’s it.”

Update 2:52pm CT, Feb. 9: Added comment from Chaffetz.

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*First Published: Feb 9, 2017, 2:48 pm