White House: Conway acted ‘without nefarious motive’ in Ivanka Trump plug
NEW YORK — The White House has concluded that Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, was acting “without nefarious motive” when she plugged Ivanka Trump’s products in a TV interview, according to a letter obtained by CNNMoney.
The letter, from the White House to the Office of Government Ethics, says a White House lawyer met with Conway to review federal rules prohibiting endorsements by government employees. It makes no mention of plans for disciplinary action.
“Upon completion of our inquiry, we concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again,” says the letter, signed by Stefan C. Passantino, a White House deputy counsel for compliance and ethics.
“It is noted that Ms. 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,” the letter says.
Conway was being interviewed on Fox News Channel on Feb. 9 when she said: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” A day earlier, President Trump had complained on Twitter that Nordstrom had treated Ivanka Trump unfairly by dropping her line of clothes and accessories.
“It’s a wonderful line,” Conway said from the White House briefing room on “Fox & Friends.” “I own some of it. I fully — I’m going to just, I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
The Office of Government Ethics said in a previous letter to the White House that there was “strong reason to believe” Conway violated ethics standards for federal employees and that disciplinary action was in order.
That recommendation came after lawmakers in Congress sent a bipartisan letter asking the ethics office to say whether Conway should receive a stronger disciplinary response, including suspension, demotion or dismissal.
Represenative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and an author of that letter, on Wednesday called the White House’s response a “bad sign.”
“Other federal employees would likely be suspended for engaging in this conduct, and White House officials should not be held to a different standard,” Cummings said, adding that he hopes Trump reconsiders.
The White House and the Office of Government Ethics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Federal rules say that public employees may not use their positions “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.”
The ethics office could still recommend a specific penalty for Conway, like a suspension. But any recommendation would be non-binding.
Nordstrom said last month that it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump products because of “brand performance.” An online campaign called #GrabYourWallet has encouraged shoppers to boycott Ivanka Trump merchandise.
The company that owns TJ Maxx and Marshalls also sent a memo to workers instructing them not to draw attention to the Ivanka Trump brand in stores. The company did not give a reason for the instructions.
And Neiman Marcus removed Ivanka Trump products from its website. Neiman declined to say whether it would keep the merchandise in stores or resume online sales later.