The Office of Government Ethics has slammed the White House for failing to take disciplinary action against presidential counsel Kellyanne Conway for plugging Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on national TV.
In a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump’s deputy counsel, Stefan Passatino, ethics Director Walter Shaub underlined serious concerns about the Trump administration’s “extraordinary assertion” that White House employees like Conway are not subject to ethics regulations.
The White House has said that Conway was “counseled” — but nothing more — after she urged TV viewers during an interview last month to buy products from Ivanka Trump’s line. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody,” Conway said on Fox News.
The comments followed a tweet by Trump attacking Nordstrom department store for treating his daughter “so unfairly” and dropping her products. Nordstrom said the products weren’t selling.
The White House apparently conceded that Conway had violated ethics regulations barring a member of the government from pitching products, but decided not to take disciplinary action. Passatino told Shaub he had “personally” talked to Conway and she agreed to abide by ethics rules in the future.
“I remain concerned about Ms. Conway’s misuse of position,” Shaub wrote in his letter. “When an agency declines to take disciplinary action against an employee in connection with an ethics violation,” the ethics office’s “only recourse is to notify the President. In this case, however, the White House’s response makes clear that disciplinary action will not be taken.”
Shaub added that for ethics violators, “disciplinary action serves to deter future misconduct. Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program.”
Even more concerning, Shaub wrote, is Trump’s claim that “many” ethics regulations don’t apply to most White House employees.
“The assertion is incorrect, and the letter cites no legal basis for it. Presidential administrations have not considered it appropriate to challenge the applicability of ethics rules to the entire executive branch,” Shaub wrote.
“It is critical to the public’s faith in the integrity of government that White House employees be held to the same standard of ethical accountability as other executive branch employees.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to Shaub’s letter.