The Office of Government Ethics sent a letter Monday to the White House calling on it to investigate whether Kellyanne Conway broke ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s business on television and to consider disciplining Conway.
The letter was made public by the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.
Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote in the letter that it appears Conway broke ethics rules barring administration employees from misusing their position.
Conway last week told Fox News viewers to “buy Ivanka’s stuff” and gushed about Ivanka Trump’s “wonderful” fashion line. Those comments came as she was defending President Donald Trump’s tweet knocking Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s line due to poor sales.
In the letter, which was dated Monday, Shaub pushed the White House to address what he said was Conway’s breach of ethics rules. Shaub noted that OGE spoke with Stefan Passantino, an ethics official at the White House, on Feb. 9 and asked for notice of any disciplinary action against Conway, but wrote that his office had not heard anything back.
“Although Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated during a press conference on February 9, 2017, that, ‘Kellyanne had been counseled, and that’s all we’re going to go with,’ OGE has not yet received notification of any disciplinary or other corrective action against Ms. Conway,” he wrote.
Shaub wrote that “there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted.” He charged that Conway used a television interview “as an opportunity to market Ms. Trump’s products” and noted that she made the remarks “on screen in a tight frame between the official seal of the White House and the American flag.”
The Office of Government Ethics asked the White House to investigate whether Conway broke ethics rules and to contact the OGE with its findings and notice of any disciplinary action by Feb. 28.
In a separate letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the chair and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, respectively, Shaub outlined just how little power the office has to hold the White House accountable for Conway’s actions.
“As you know, Congress has not provided OGE with any actual investigative authority or resources for hiring investigators,” Shaub wrote. “Unlike the Committee, OGE cannot issue subpoenas, question witnesses, compel the production of documents, or take action against individuals who refuse to cooperate. Unlike employing federal agencies, OGE cannot take disciplinary action against an executive branch employee other than an OGE employee.”
Shaub noted that that OGE can only recommend an investigation, and then recommend disciplinary action through a lengthy process that could take months. Shaub said that, in this case, the process could take until late April or early May.
He also noted that the office is “authorized to notify the President if the agency fails to take appropriate disciplinary action; however, such notice would be ineffective in this case because any decision not to take disciplinary action will have been made by the President.”
Experts told TPM last week that it appeared Conway’s actions violated ethics regulations.
Larry Noble, the general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told TPM that Conway likely violated a rule that mandates 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.”
Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, declined to assess whether Conway broke any rules, but he told TPM that federal employees are barred from promoting private businesses while serving in an official capacity.
“It is a violation of federal ethics regulations prohibiting use of public office for private gain for any government employee in an official speech, an official capacity TV interview or any similar communication to promote the products or services of a particular private business belonging to the employee’s own family, the President’s family, a friend, a campaign contributor or anyone else,” he wrote in an email to TPM. “That was strictly forbidden in the Bush administration because it is illegal.”
Read Shaub’s letter to the White House: