Larry Noble Statement on Clear Ethics Violation by White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway
WASHINGTON – Thursday morning, Kellyanne Conway, in an interview in the White House and in her official public role as White House Counselor, went on TV to tell the American people to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” By encouraging the audience to buy products sold by Ivanka Trump, the adult daughter of President Donald Trump, appears to have violated the ban on federal employees using their public office to endorse products, and an investigation is needed to determine the seriousness of the violation and what action should be taken. Violations of this rule can result in disciplinary action such as reprimand, suspension, demotion or dismissal.
“This ethics violation is clear,” said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. “It’s a total misuse of taxpayer funds and her federal office to have the White House Counselor going on television to ‘give a free commercial’ – in her own words – and encourage people to buy Trump-affiliated products. When you decide to work in government, you are promising the American people that you are there to serve the public. Conway broke that promise.” Now, apparently in response to the public’s reaction, the White House said that Ms. Conway had been “counseled” about her actions, but refused to elaborate on what that meant. “This is not an acceptable resolution of the matter,” Noble said. “The public has a right to know what action has been taken and what she was told.”
Given the failure of the White House to take forceful action, Noble added, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) should take action to see that the law designed to ensure the proper use of government resources and separate government policy decisions from private dealings is enforced. Ultimately, the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Office of Inspector General (OIG) could be called upon to take action. However, with Jeff Sessions at the helm of the DOJ, it’s unclear whether there is a reliable enforcement mechanism that exists in the government with its myriad conflicts.
Still, there are avenues available to address this problem. For example, the Chairman and Ranking Member or the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter Thursday asking the OGE to investigate the matter and recommend disciplinary action against Conway.
“However, we have to recognize,” Noble said, “that Kellyanne Conway is just the tip of the iceberg. This administration has shown a dangerous disregard for the ethics laws and norms that are necessary for the people to have faith in their democracy. It is time for Congress to investigate the broader issues related to the real and apparent conflicts of interest that are resulting from President Trump's continued involvement with his and his family’s businesses.”