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Ethics office calls on White House to discipline Conway
The director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) says White House counselor Kellyanne Conway misused her official position by hawking Ivanka Trump's product line on TV and is recommending that the White House discipline her for it.
"Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct Act and that disciplinary action is warranted," OGE director Walter Shaub wrote in a Tuesday letter to White House legal counselor Stefan Passantino.
Shaub asked the White House to respond by Feb. 28 with the results of its investigation and any disciplinary action it may decide to take.
Last week, the department store Nordstrom announced it would stop selling Ivanka Trump's line of clothing and accessories, citing lagging sales.
President Trump responded over Twitter, complaining that his daughter was being treated "unfairly" by the company. Donald Trump, Jr. also rallied to his sister's defense, urging consumers to "cut up" their Nordstrom cards and calling for a boycott of the company.
At a press briefing, White House spokesman Sean Spicer accused Nordstrom of "targeting" Ivanka Trump for her father's political views and said it was natural for the family to rally around one of their own.
But Conway went further, saying in an interview on Fox News that viewers should show their support by purchasing Ivanka Trump's product line.
"Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would tell you. ... I hate shopping but I'm going to go get some for myself today," Conway said. "I'm going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today."
That provoked an outcry from Democrats who have long alleged that the first family is seeking to personally profit off the White House. Ethics groups also filed complaints alleging impropriety.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) described Conway's remarks as "over the line" and "unacceptable." He and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote a joint letter to the OGE seeking guidance.
On Tuesday, the OGE responded with the letter to Passantino, Chaffetz, Cummings and Don McGahn, the counsel to the president, saying that Conway's remarks were a clear violation of Standards of Conduct implemented under former President George H.W. Bush that prohibit government employees from misusing their official positions.
"Executive branch officials should use the authority entrusted to them for the benefit of the American people and not for private profit," Shaub wrote.
"These facts, if true, would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position. I note that the OGE's regulation on misuse of position offers as an example the hypothetical case of a presidential appointee appearing in a television commercial to promote a product. Ms. Conway's actions track that example almost exactly. Therefore, I recommend that the White House investigate Ms. Conway's actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her."
Spicer has said that Conway "has been counseled" on the matter, an apparent indication she had been reprimanded.
In an interview last Thursday on CNN, Conway said she'd spoken with Trump about the incident and that the president stands behind her "100 percent."
"In fact it was a very heartening moment," Conway said. "All I can say to America's women is at some point in your life you ought to have a boss who treats you the way the president treated me today."
- This story was updated at 2:55 p.m.