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With Kellyanne Conway’s Nordstrom ‘Violation,’ Ethics Office Draws Clear Line

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An early sign of how the government will navigate Trump’s many business entanglements.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

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It’s already been a few days since Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, took to Fox & Friends to shill the Ivanka Trump brand after several retailers confirmed they would stop carrying it.

For those wondering whether the shoutout was even permissible — and how Congress and government officials would come down on the conflicts of interest posed by a president with actual branded clothing lines and hotels to his name — we now have an answer.

Today, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) released a letter in which director Walter Shaub calls Conway’s actions a “clear violation” of ethics rules. In the letter, Shaub notes that Conway had been conducting the interview in an “official capacity... appearing on screen in a tight frame between the official seal of the White House and the American flag,” but that she used the Fox appearance “as an opportunity to market Ms. Trump’s stuff.”

The letter reads:

“When OGE has reason to believe that an employee may have violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, OGE is authorized to recommend that the employee agency investigate the matter and consider taking disciplinary action against the employee.”

It adds that there’s “strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted.” The Standard of Conduct “prohibit[s] employees from misusing their official positions.” In this case, giving the Ivanka Trump label — which has been dropped by Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Belk, and others — a “free commercial” isn’t exactly part of the job description of a president’s counselor.

“Executive branch officials should use the authority entrusted to them for the benefit of the American people and not for private profit,” the letter adds.

The letter, dated February 13th and addressed to deputy counsel to the president Stefan Passantino, notes that although White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Conway has been “counseled,” the “OGE has not yet received notification of any disciplinary or corrective action against Ms. Conway.”

To that end, the OGE recommends — since that’s all it’s technically empowered to do — that the White House investigate Conway’s statements and consider “disciplinary action,” although what the action would be isn’t clear.

While the folks at SNL were able to make light of the situation — Melissa McCarthy appeared on the show last week again as Spicer, wearing Ivanka Trump heels and a bracelet and turning a press conference into an HSN-style bit — the incident is less humorous to those concerned about Trump family’s boundaries (or lack thereof) between personal and professional when it comes to their family businesses.

Between the parents and adult children alone, there are several apparel and home decor lines, hotels, golf courses, and real estate holdings (check out this massive map of them all). There’s been an ongoing concern about what kinds of conflicts of interest these represent, as well as how Congress or government agencies would address them when they perceive any overstepping.

Conway’s Nordstrom episode gives us a clue with the latter. After Conway’s interview, Congressional representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) of the House Oversight Committee also sent a letter to OGE urging them to investigate the matter.

Today, along with his letter to the White House, Shaub released a letter in response to Chaffetz and Cummings, confirming “that OGE will take the actions you request in your letter.”