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Ethics Office: White House Should Weigh Disciplinary Action Against Conway

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House should consider disciplinary action against presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway for appearing to violate government ethics rules by publicly endorsing Ivanka Trump products, the Office of Government Ethics wrote in a letter made public on Tuesday.

The letter, dated Monday and addressed to a White House ethics official, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to investigate the incident and gave it two weeks to provide its findings and detail any disciplinary steps taken.

Conway, Trump’s presidential campaign manager and now a senior counselor, said on Fox News last week that Americans should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” She spoke after retailer Nordstrom announced it was dropping the branded line of Ivanka Trump, the president’s older daughter.

Federal ethics rules prohibit executive branch employees from using their positions to endorse products.

“There is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted,” Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub wrote in the letter.

Stefan Passantino, the White House ethics official named in the letter, declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.

The ethics office has little enforcement power. It can formally recommend disciplinary action if the White House does not act, Shaub said in a separate letter to two U.S. lawmakers who sought a review of Conway’s remarks.

That recommendation would not be binding, and the process would take until late April or early May, Shaub said. If the ethics office does formally recommend discipline, it would be up to the White House to decide any steps against Conway.

Norman Eisen, who was ethics chief under President Barack Obama, said Congress also could call hearings or subpoena documents if the White House did not act.

Trump himself earlier attacked Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s brand. The ethics rules that bar endorsements do not apply to the president, though critics said his comments were inappropriate.

Nordstrom said it made the decision because sales had steadily declined, especially in the last half of 2016, to where carrying the line “didn’t make good business sense.”

In his letter to the White House, Shaub wrote that his office’s regulatory guidelines include an example violation in which a hypothetical presidential appointee promotes a product in a television commercial. He said Conway’s remarks closely mirrored that example of what not to do.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday that Conway had been “counseled,” but Shaub wrote that the Office of Government Ethics had not been informed of any corrective steps.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Timothy Ahmann, Ayesha Rascoe and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Grant McCool, Bernard Orr and Howard Goller)

IMAGE: Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

#EndorseThis: Trump Declares War On…Nordstrom?

Given the magnitude of the presidency’s responsibilities, you would think that Donald Trump and his senior advisers would have bigger concerns than the sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise. And you would be wrong, as everyone found out this week when Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer went to war against Nordstrom one of the retailers that has dropped Ivanka’s copy-cat fashion line because it isn’t selling.

Trevor Noah suspects the Ivanka blowup may hint at deeper political problems. “For someone who would have won the popular vote, Trump seems pretty unpopular!” he observed. “It must be those millions of dead illegal immigrants who aren’t buying Ivanka Trump shoes.” In the face of the Nordstrom decision, “Tweeter’s gonna tweet,” and the Daily Show host dissects Trump’s weird message, which suggested that she was being punished by the department store not for poor sales but for his politics.

When reporters asked Spicer why the president was going after Nordstrom’s, he adopted the same phony argument. “It’s a direct attack on his policies and her name,” the press secretary replied, with his usual phony indignation. But his convoluted logic demonstrates how impossible it will be to of separate the Trump brands, such as they are, from the Trump administration.

On the brighter side, Noah thinks this humbling experience just might teach Trump something — an absurdly optimistic expectation.

 

Did Kellyanne Conway Break The Law By Plugging Ivanka’s Brand?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top White House aide on Thursday promoted the clothing line named after President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, drawing criticism from ethics experts one day after the president attacked a retailer for dropping her products.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff …I’m going to go get some myself today,” Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News in an interview from the White House. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody.”

Norman Eisen, who served as an ethics adviser to Democratic President Barack Obama, said Conway’s comments amounted to an advertisement and violated government ethics law.

“It’s a violation of the rule,” Eisen told MSNBC. “It’s a serious matter.”

Former Office of Government Ethics chief Don Fox told the Washington Post Conway’s comments appeared to violate rules barring the use of public office for anyone’s private gain.

Ivanka’s brand was thrust into the headlines after her father on Wednesday attacked department store chain Nordstrom Inc for dropping her products, in a highly unusual move that drew criticism for his use of a White House twitter platform to intervene in a commercial matter.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the ethics issue regarding Conway’s remarks, and the Office of Government Ethics could not be immediately reached.

Other retailers that have dropped the Ivanka line include Neiman Marcus and HSN Inc, while Macy’s Inc, TJX Cos, Hudson’s Bay Co, which runs high-end chains like Lord & Taylor, and Dillards Inc still carry it.

An ongoing campaign called #GrabYourWallet encourages shoppers to boycott products with ties to President Trump and his family. Separately, supporters have launched an alternative social media campaign called #BuyIvanka.

Ivanka Trump has said she would step away from her company when her father took office in the White House. A spokeswoman for the Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bernadette Baum)

IMAGE: An Ivanka Trump-branded blouse is seen for sale at off-price retailer Winners in Toronto, Ontario, Canada February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Trump Blasts Nordstrom, Raising New Concern On Business Ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Nordstrom Inc on Wednesday for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line raised concerns about the use of his White House platform for his family’s businesses.

In response to the Twitter comment Trump posted criticizing Nordstrom, which has said its move was based on the sales performance of the Ivanka Trump products, White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the company’s action as a “direct attack” on the president’s policies.

“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!,” Trump said on Wednesday in his post on both his personal and official presidential Twitter accounts.

Trump’s comments underscore the complicated relationship that the wealthy New York real estate developer who became president on Jan. 20 has with his sprawling family business interests amid criticism from Democrats and others about the ethics and legality of the arrangement.

During a White House briefing, Spicer painted Nordstrom’s action as an attack on the president’s daughter.

“For someone to take out their concern with his policies on a family member of his is just not acceptable. And the president has every right as a father to stand up to them,” Spicer said.

Nordstrom did not respond to requests seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment.

The Republican president’s complaint, however, drew swift criticism from Democrats. Asked about the Nordstrom tweet, U.S. House of Representatives’ minority leader Nancy Pelosi said:

“I think it’s inappropriate, but he’s a totally inappropriate president, so it’s totally in keeping with who he is. What I think is more inappropriate, though, is for him to refer to a judge who made a ruling that he didn’t agree with as a ‘so-called judge.’ Now we’re talking about the separation of power, not the thin skin of an incompetent president,” Pelosi told reporters in Baltimore for House Democrats’ retreat.

Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, in a tweet indicated that the matter should be referred to the Office of Government Ethics.

In a statement last week, Nordstrom said it routinely cuts brands each year and that the decision to pass on the Ivanka Trump brand had been based on its performance.

A day after Nordstrom’s statement, luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group also said it had stopped selling Ivanka Trump’s jewelry line on its website and a store in New Jersey, according to Yahoo News.

The move by the retailers comes amid an ongoing campaign called #GrabYourWallet, which encourages shoppers to boycott products with ties to President Trump, his family and his donors.

The president has declined to sell off his businesses despite calls to do so from critics, instead turning his empire over to his adult sons. Trump’s web of international companies remains a bit opaque since he has refused to release his tax returns, which experts have said would provide a clearer view of his business interests.

Since winning the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8, Trump has targeted specific companies on Twitter. But this is his first tweet criticizing a business tied to his family since the victory.

Ivanka Trump ran a clothing and jewelry business bearing her name, in addition to other work for the Trump Organization, before saying she would resign when her father was sworn in as president last month.

ProPublica reported on Feb. 2 that the Trump Organization said Ivanka had resigned her positions but that it had not yet filed the changes. The Trump organization later said the filings would be done by Feb. 3, according to the report.

Shares of Nordstrom fell 0.7 percent after the president’s criticism but recovered to trade up 3.7 percent at $44.38 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Nandita Bose in Chicago; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Paul Simao and Bernard Orr)

IMAGE: Ivanka Trump attends U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy and policy forum with chief executives of major U.S. companies at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque