Office of Government Ethics asks White House to consider disciplining Kellyanne Conway

Source: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent executive branch ethics watchdog, recommended that the White House investigate and "consider taking disciplinary action against" President Donald Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessory line during a recent press appearance.

In a letter to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings dated Monday, OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. recommended the White House investigate the matter and possibly take action before it escalates further.

In a second letter to deputy counsel to the president Stefan C. Passantino, Shaub outlined the specific claims against Conway and noted, "Executive branch officials should use the authority entrusted to them for the benefit of the American people and not for private profit. ... 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."

Shaub noted that while the law "authorizes OGE to make only an informal recommendation that the employing agency investigate the matter and consider taking disciplinary action against the employee," the agency was requesting Trump's administration respond to its request by Feb. 28. 

Shaub added that if the administration ignores the request, the agency could then issue its own recommendation of disciplinary action.

Conway drew the ire of ethics watchdogs when, during a press appearance on retailer Nordstrom's decision to pull Ivanka Trump's brand and the president's subsequent threats on Twitter, she recommended supporters go out and buy Ivanka Trump's clothing.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff," she told Fox & Friends, in what seemed like a pretty clear-cut case of a conflict of interest.

While the OGE's limited power means it can do little to censure Conway directly, the White House did announce she had been "counseled." Shaub's recommendation is sure to build political pressure for Trump to do something about her actions.

In the meantime, Conway has continued on much as before in her role as adviser and one of Trump's chief spokespeople, attempting to spin news of national security adviser Michael Flynn's abrupt Monday night resignation on Tuesday morning.

Feb. 14, 2017, 5:07 p.m.: This story has been updated.

Correction: Feb. 14, 2017

A previous version of this story misidentified the author of the letters. OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. wrote them both.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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