Feb. 9 (UPI) — White House adviser Kellyanne Conway had said she was giving Ivanka Trump‘s clothing line a “free commercial” — but her comments may end up costing her.
Two prominent watchdogs on Thursday filed complaints against the Republican strategist with the Office of Government Ethics — and called for the agency to investigate her for potentially violating not one, but two federal regulations.
Conway made comments supporting the president’s daughter’s fashion line during an appearance on Fox News Channel on Thursday, while discussing Nordstrom’s announcement last week that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s products.
“This is a very successful businesswoman,” Conway told “Fox and Friends.” “You can certainly buy her goods online.”
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” she added. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully, I’m just going to give a free commercial here — go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
The problem, according to watchdogs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Public Citizen, is that Conway was clearly acting in her official government capacity when she made the “sales pitch” — complete with the official White House placard prominently displayed over her left shoulder.
“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.”
The law, 5 C.F.R. 2635.702, states that “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.”
CREW said Conway also may have violated 31 U.S.C. 1301, a law against using public funds for non-official purposes.
“Selling the president’s daughter’s clothing line is not an official purpose of the United States government,” the group stated in a news release.
“Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said. “Conway’s self-proclaimed advertisement … 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.”
“While many of these restrictions may not explicitly apply to the president or vice president, the administration’s employees are not immune from these ethics rules,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, added.
“Please proceed with an investigation and take appropriate enforcements actions to ensure that all employees of the federal government abide by the conflict of interest laws and regulations,” Public Citizen wrote in its complaint letter to the ethics office.
The Office of Government Ethics website became inaccessible for hours on Thursday after it received a large volume of communications from citizens, the agency said.
Wednesday, the president slammed Nordstrom in a tweet, saying, “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”
The White House said later Thursday that it had “counseled” Conway on the matter.
Don W. Fox, former acting director of OGE, called Conway’s comments “jaw-dropping” — and House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said they were “unacceptable.”