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Starting with Nordstrom, and then Neiman Marcus, Belk, T.J. Maxx, and Marshall’s, a slew of retailers over the last week have confirmed that they will stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s retail collection, take it offline, or bury it in the store (optics!). While most have blamed performance in lieu of politics, the debate over whether one should or shouldn’t buy Ivanka-branded goods has been polarizing.
On Wednesday, the President weighed in. Today, on Fox & Friends, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway made her own stance crystal clear. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it,” Conway said. “I fully — I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer echoed this sentiment, telling reporters yesterday that “this is a direct attack on his policies and her name” and that “there’s clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies he’s taken.”
Spicer, who has previously lied to the press from behind his podium, added that Trump “has every right to stand up for members of his family and applaud their business activity and success.”
Trump supporters are taking to Twitter to use the #BuyIvanka hashtag, but others are questioning the ethics (and legality) of the Trump administration even commenting on the family businesses in the first place. Regarding Conway’s open endorsement, former deputy secretary of labor Chris Lu took to Twitter to suggest that Conway broke the law.
In the tweet, Lu highlights the part that says “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."
Norm Eisen, a special counsel on ethics during the Obama administration, told MSNBC that this whole episode is “an example of why Donald Trump and his family needed to step away, needed to make a more definitive break. And I think it's an abuse of the office of the presidency. He's putting the bully in the bully pulpit."
Conway stopped short of suggesting where to buy Ivanka products, which will be increasingly difficult as one store after another stops doing business with the brand.
Later in the afternoon, Spicer told reporters in a press briefing that Conway “has been counseled on that subject.”
"Do you believe Kellyanne Conway crossed an ethical line here?— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 9, 2017
"Kellyanne has been counseled. That's all we're going to go with." pic.twitter.com/C4R0UoDbBg
As blowback started to build even more on Thursday, Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called Conway’s pitch to buy Ivanka’s retail line “clearly over the line, unacceptable,” according to the Associated Press.
BREAKING: House committee chairman says White House aide's promotion of Ivanka Trump brand was 'clearly over the line, unacceptable':— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) February 9, 2017
By mid-afternoon, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had filed a formal complaint with the Office of Government Ethics and White House Counsel’s Office, stating that Kellyanne Conway’s comments went against “federal law, ethics regulations and other standards of conduct.”
The complaint requests that the office conduct an investigation and “take any necessary disciplinary action against her.”
On Friday, February 10th, it was reported that Conway apologized to President Trump, and she tweeted that he backed her up:
POTUS supports me, and millions of Americans support him & his agenda. https://t.co/FTaPXTymGV— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) February 10, 2017
According to AP, Trump also took issue with Spicer’s statement — that Conway had “been counseled” on the subject — which he believes made it sound like Conway was in trouble.
Whether Conway is actually disciplined is ultimately up to the president. The Office of Government Ethics advises federal employees but does not have the power of an enforcement agency, meaning it can only recommend to the federal agency in question — in this case, the White House — that it should investigate an employee’s actions.
On February 13th, following pushes to investigate the matter, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) released two letters, both signed by OGE director Walter Shaub. The first was addressed to representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) of the House Oversight Committee, confirming that OGE has taken action on the committee’s request.
The second letter is the result of that action: a letter addressed to the White House, specifically the Deputy Counsel to the President and Designated Agency Ethics Official Stefan C. Passantino, recommending that the White House investigate Conway’s statements and “consider taking disciplinary action.” It calls on the White House to investigate and report back on “any disciplinary or other corrective taken in connection with this matter” by February 28th.
Now it’s up to the White House to act or not.
Update: February 14th, 2017, 3:35 p.m.
This post has been updated throughout.