Ethics watchdog slams White House for not disciplining Conway

Ethics watchdog slams White House for not disciplining Conway
© Greg Nash

The government’s ethics watchdog on Thursday hammered the White House’s decision not to discipline counselor Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump's merchandise in a TV interview.

In a letter sent to deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, Office of Governmental Ethics Director Walter Shaub voiced grave concern over the Trump administration’s decision to forgo punishment for Conway's "free commercial," saying the move “risks undermining the ethics program.”

Of more concern, Shaub said, is the White House’s repeated claim that officials in the president’s office are not subject to the same ethics rules that apply to other government officials.

“I am more concerned about the extraordinary assertion that ‘many’ of OGE’s regulations are inapplicable to employees of the Executive Office of the President,” Shaub wrote in the letter.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The assertion is incorrect and the letter cites no legal basis for it,” he continued. “Presidential administrations have not considered it appropriate to challenge the applicability of ethics rules to the entire executive branch.”

During an interview on “Fox & Friends” last month — days after Nordstrom announced it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump's line of clothing accessories — Conway urged viewers to buy products from the first daughter's fashion line.

“Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would tell you." Conway said. "I hate shopping but I'm going to go get some for myself today.”

“I'm going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today,” Conway said.

The remarks immediately drew backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike, many of whom pointed to the incident as a clear violation of an ethics rule barring government officials from using their positions to promote or endorse products.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaffetz: Money 'partly' responsible for decision to leave Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report Chaffetz to join Fox News as a contributor MORE (R-Utah) quickly sent a letter to Shaub, asking the OGE to recommend that the White House discipline Conway for the violation.

Passantino sent a letter to Shaub last week, declining to hand down a punishment to Conway, arguing that the matter was a first offense for the Trump aide and that she was unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

Shaub also sent a letter to Chaffetz and House Oversight Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Thursday, admitting that the ethics office could take no further action against Conway.

“When an agency declines to take disciplinary action against an employee in connection with an ethics violation, OGE’s only recourse is to notify the President,” he wrote. 

“In this case, however, the White House’s response makes clear that disciplinary action will not be taken.”

- Updated at 4:18 p.m.