White House

Trump aide Conway says to 'go buy' Ivanka Trump's products, sparking ethics concerns

Defending his daughter a conflict of interest for Trump?
Defending his daughter a conflict of interest for Trump?

Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway sparked ethics concerns Thursday when she said on national TV to "go buy" products made by the president's daughter's brand.

In a Fox News appearance, Conway responded to President Donald Trump's Twitter attack on Nordstrom on Wednesday for saying it plans to stop selling Ivanka Trump's products. The chain faced backlash from some consumers for selling Ivanka Trump-branded products amid concerns about her father's policies. It said its decision was based only on business considerations.

Trump alleged that Nordstrom treated his daughter "unfairly," renewing concerns that he is using his platform to affect his family's business interests. Conway raised even more ethical issues after criticizing Nordstrom's decision and saying that people can "see through" the company's intentions.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would tell you. I'm going to. I hate shopping and I'm going to go get some myself today," Conway told "Fox and Friends."

"I'm going to give it a free commercial here."

Kellyanne Conway
Katie Kramer | CNBC

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote a letter to committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asking him to refer Conway for possible disciplinary action. Cummings and outside government ethics watchdogs said Conway's comments could violate a federal rule barring employees from endorsing a product.

"This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee's government position," Cummings wrote. "Since the Committee has direct jurisdiction over the ethics laws applicable to White House employees, I request that the Committee make an official referral of this matter to the Office of Government Ethics and request that it report back to the Committee as soon as possible with its findings."

Chaffetz later said Conway's comments "were clearly over the line." Cummings wrote that the Office of Government Ethics has the ability to "review potential violations and recommend discipline ranging from suspension to loss of pay to removal."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Conway "has been counseled on that subject," without saying exactly what that meant.

According to Reuters, when asked in an interview on Fox News on Thursday evening how she had been counseled, Conway replied: "I'm not going to comment on that."

She said she was aware of the letter from Chaffetz and Cummings and that it
was being reviewed internally.

"I'm just really happy that I spent an awful lot of time with the president
of the United States this afternoon and that he supports me 100 percent," she
added, according to Reuters.

Outside ethics watchdogs also criticized Conway's comments on Thursday. Norm Eisen, a former top ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama, told MSNBC that the statement broke the law "pure and simple."

Conway's comment "isn't just gross and unethical but it's illegal," tweeted Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School. Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and former Federal Election Commission general counsel, also said that Conway may have breached the law.

Here is the text of the provision that critics said Conway may have violated:

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, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations. The specific prohibitions set forth in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section apply this general standard, but are not intended to be exclusive or to limit the application of this section.

The global reach of the Trump family's businesses has led to unprecedented concerns that it could use the office for personal gain. Trump did not divest from his businesses, but by law the president has more protection from conflicts of interest than other federal employees.

While the Trump Organization said Ivanka Trump stepped down from her roles there, she licenses her name to merchandise manufacturers, who then sell products at stores like Nordstrom and Macy's, according to The New York Times. It's not clear if she still receives royalties from her clothing licensing.

Reuters contributed to this article