White House Won't Penalize Kellyanne Conway For Plugging Ivanka Trump's Brand

Officials say Conway “made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner."

Officials believe that Conway “made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner while attempting to stand up for a person she believed had been unfairly treated and did so without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally,” according to a letter they wrote to the Office of Government Ethics, obtained by CNN on Wednesday.

During a Feb. 9 appearance on Fox News, Conway plugged Ivanka Trump’s products while attempting to defend the president’s attacks against the department store Nordstrom, which had announced it was dropping Ivanka’s fashion line due to low sales.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff! I hate shopping, and I will go get some myself today,” Conway said, after praising Ivanka Trump as “a champion for women empowerment.”

“It is just a wonderful line. I own some of it,” she continued. “I fully, I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Conway’s remarks may have been in violation of a federal ethics rule stating that government officials cannot use their public office to sell products.

“An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise,” the rule says

Trump’s initial attack against Nordstrom, which he made via Twitter, was then retweeted by the official White House Twitter account, raising further concerns about conflicts of interest between his presidency and his family’s businesses.

Following Conway’s appearance, even House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) criticized Conway and referred her for an OGE investigation.

That same day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been “counseled on the subject.”

The following week, the OGE informed the White House that there was “strong reason to believe” Conway had violated ethics rules, and said that “disciplinary action is warranted.” However, it noted that the power to take that action rested with the White House, and the OGE could only make the recommendation.

In the White House letter, dated Tuesday, deputy counsel for compliance and ethics Stefan Passantino wrote that he met with Conway, and the Office of the White House counsel had determined it was all an accident.

“Upon completion of our inquiry, we concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again,” Passantino wrote in the letter.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who first urged Chaffetz to refer Conway to the OGE, said Wednesday that Conway “should not be held to a different standard.”

“It’s a very bad sign that the president chose not to discipline Ms. Conway for blatantly violating the law,” Cummings said in a statement. “Other federal employees would likely be suspended for engaging in this conduct, and White House officials should not be held to a different standard. I hope that the president reconsiders his decision and that he and his staff will take their ethical obligations more seriously.”



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