The White House is arguing that Kellyanne Conway’s public endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s brand was not intentional and that it’s “highly unlikely” another such incident will occur.
In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics director Walter M. Shaub Jr., who has said disciplinary action against Conway is likely warranted for television comments she made urging consumers to purchase Ivanka Trump merchandise, a White House attorney said an internal inquiry has found Conway acted “inadvertently.”
This story first appeared in the March 2, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“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 of intent to benefit personally,” deputy counsel to the president Stefan C. Passantino wrote.
Comments made by Conway during an episode of “Fox & Friends” while she stood in the White House briefing room included the simple directive, “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” and “this is just a wonderful line.”
“I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online,” Conway said during her appearance.
As counselor to President Trump, Passantino admitted that Conway is subject to ethical standards applied to members of the Executive Branch and that the Office of the White House Counsel “immediately undertook a review of the facts and circumstances” surrounding her comments.
“As part of the review, I have personally met with Ms. Conway to review the Standards of Conduct that employees of the Executive Office of the President are expected to follow, including the provisions relating to the appropriate use of one’s official position,” Passantino said. “Upon completion of our inquiry, we concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.
“Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the standards and has reiterated her commitment to abiding by them in future,” he added.
The Conway comments at issue came in in the wake of Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line from its stores, explaining that sales had declined in 2016, and a day after President Trump took to Twitter to scold the retailer for its decision.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a tweet after Conway’s public endorsement that what she did was “wrong, wrong, wrong.”
A group of Senate Democrats quickly followed up with a letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, who argued the comments violate ethics laws that “clearly bar federal employees from endorsing any product or enterprise for private gain.”