When White house counselor Kellyanne Conway told a Fox News TV audience Thursday morning to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” she violated a key ethics regulation, according to several attorneys who spoke to PEOPLE.
Federal employees are prohibited from using public office for the endorsement of any product, according to the regulations.
Since the on-air tout, Conway has been “counseled on the subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at a briefing.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tells PEOPLE in an email that “Ms. Conway has been counseled and we have no further comment.”
Conway’s Ivanka sales pitch came after Nordstrom’s announced it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing line and shoes, citing low sales.
“This is just a wonderful line,” she said on Fox & Friends. “I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, called today for the committee to investigate “potential disciplinary action” against Conway for plugging Ivanka Trump’s brand.
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Cummings sent a letter to committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) calling Conway’s pitch “a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position.”
Chaffetz tells The Washington Post that Conway’s endorsement was “clearly over the line” and “unacceptable.”
Several attorneys tell PEOPLE that Conway appears to have broken a rule of the Office of Government Ethics that forbids government employees from using their public office for private gain, or for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.
“She violated that regulation,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University who is an expert on government ethics.
“Jaw dropping is an appropriate way to put it. It is very concerning,” she says.
“This is not a trivial matter at all. It appears the Trump White House is using the White House to financially benefit the president, his family, his businesses.” She adds: “And that’s not what the presidency is.”
Lawrence Noble, the Campaign Legal Center general counsel and former counsel for the Federal Election Commission, tells PEOPLE it appears that Conway has “broken an ethics law, it’s a regulation but regulations are laws, and the regulation prohibits a government employee from promoting a business.”
“It would be major progress for the White House to even acknowledge this is a violation and stop doing this,” he says.
Noble notes that punishment for this kind of rule violation could include penalties as harsh as the loss of one’s job. The Office of Government Ethics can advise on a punishment, and even go to the department of justice for potential civil or criminal prosecution.
But, he says, the final decision is up to the White House. “The problem is, all of these are under the executive branch of the government so they all report to the president,” Noble says.