The federal agency tasked with teaching the Trump administration ethics has some advice for the White House: punish Kellyanne Conway for going on live television last week and telling Americans to buy items from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.
“Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted,” Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote to the White House in a letter dated Monday and released on Tuesday by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.
The ethics agency itself doesn’t have any formal investigative powers, but it didn’t exactly need them to reach its verdict that all the available evidence suggests Conway violated federal rules designed to bar administrative employees from misusing their public position for the private gain of themselves or others. Conway was standing in the White House briefing room, with the White House seal behind her, while answering questions about White House policy, when she segued into what she herself called a “free commercial” for Ivanka’s clothing line.
Here’s how Shaub summed up the case against Conway in his letter to the White House’s internal ethics official:
On the morning of Thursday, February 9, 2017, the hosts of a news program interviewed Ms. Conway from the White House’s James S. Brady Briefing Room. She was unquestionably appearing in her official capacity. She used that interview, however, as an opportunity to market Ms. Trump’s products, stating, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, I’m going to go get some myself today.” Shortly thereafter, she added: “This is just 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.” As Ms. Conway made these statements, she appeared on screen in a tight frame between the official seal of the White House and the American flag.
These facts, if true, would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position.
Shaub also noted that despite White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s vague claim that Conway had been “counseled” on the matter after the fact, the ethics office was never notified of “any disciplinary or other corrective action” taken against Conway. According to the federal government’s online guide for employees, the violation of ethics regulations can “lead to reprimand, suspension, demotion, or even removal, depending on the circumstances.”
Shaub gave the White House until Feb. 28 to report back with its own internal findings, but it’s not exactly clear what happens if the White House either ignores the request to investigate or decides Conway’s clear-cut violation of the rules was somehow not one. Normally, if the OGE’s initial recommendation is ignored, the office then follows up by informing the president himself. In this case, though, Trump is already well aware of what happened—and he clearly doesn’t have a problem with it.