'Buy Ivanka's stuff,' Trump aide Kellyanne Conway says on TV, sparking ethical and legal concerns

Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to President Trump, has been “counseled” for making a sales pitch for Ivanka Trump’s product line during a television interview conducted from the White House briefing room.

The endorsement Thursday by Conway raised ethical and legal questions, giving the appearance that she was using the White House to further the Trump family’s commercial interests.

“Kellyanne has been counseled and that’s all we’re going to go into,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “She’s been counseled on that subject.”

Spicer would not say whether that amounted to discipline.

President Trump has been in a public battle with Nordstrom, which dropped Ivanka Trump’s product line amid slumping sales.

Ethics lawyers have raised numerous concerns about Trump’s ties to his businesses, which remain under family control and often bear his name, as well as those controlled by other members of his family. But the latest flap has the potential to arouse broader public concern because it involves a well-known retailer.

“Go buy Ivanka's stuff,” Conway, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and continues to have a central role in advising the president and appearing on his behalf, said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

“It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it,” she added. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican who chairs the committee, requesting a referral to the Office of Government Ethics for possible disciplinary action.

Chaffetz told the Associated Press that the comments were “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

He and Cummings then wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics on Thursday.

“Conway’s statements clearly violate the ethical principles for federal employees and are unacceptable,” they wrote.

The letter, in asking the office to intervene by reviewing the incident and recommending discipline, notes the “inherent conflict of interest” Trump has in overseeing an investigation because it relates to his daughter’s business.

The ethics office said on Twitter that its “website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.”

The office went on to say that it does not have investigative or enforcement authority, but officials there can contact and provide guidance to other enforcement agencies and are “actively following this agency-contact process.”

The White House is largely responsible for policing itself to keep from using the public office for private gain, ethics attorneys said. And they are dubious of its ability to do so, given that Trump himself started the dispute, complaining on Twitter on Wednesday that his daughter had been “treated so unfairly” by Nordstrom. Trump has more than 24 million Twitter followers, in addition to the prestige of the presidency, behind his attack on the retailer.

“Given that this all started with the president attacking Nordstrom … I’m not sure I trust them to counsel her directly,” said Larry Noble, general counsel to the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government reform group.

Noble said it was more than a simple “slip of the tongue” by a single member of the administration, given that Spicer also weighed in on the issue during his Wednesday briefing. Spicer accused Nordstrom of “a direct attack on [Trump’s] policies and [Ivanka’s] name” by dropping the product line.

Noble said such talk sent a message to companies that if they declined to do business with Trump family entities, they faced potential retribution.

“All of them, they should be staying out of this,” said Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House who serves on the board of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a watchdog group that has filed lawsuits accusing the Trump administration of ethics violations.

“Instead of getting the president to cool it off on Twitter, they’re all joining.”

noah.bierman@latimes.com

Twitter: @noahbierman

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UPDATES:

3:15 p.m.: The story was updated with lawmakers sending a letter to the Office of Government Ethics.

1:30 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from ethics experts.

12:25 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

11:35 a.m.: The story was updated with comments from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. 

The story was originally published at 9:45 a.m.

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