- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2017

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway openly plugged Ivanka Trump’s products on national television Thursday, drawing a strong rebuke from the House oversight committee chairman and complaints from outside groups that she broke federal ethics laws.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Ms. Conway had been “counseled” about her behavior, but said that was the end of the matter as far as the White House was concerned.

But top lawmakers on Capitol Hill asked the administration’s chief ethics office to look into the matter. Government employees aren’t allowed to use their office for private gain, to promote a particular product or to benefit friends or relatives.

Ms. Conway made the controversial comments after a back-and-forth this week between Nordstrom and the Trump family after the store pulled Ms. Trump’s products off its shelves.

“It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it,” Ms. Conway said on Fox News. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House oversight committee, said the comments should not have been made in the first place.

“That was wrong, wrong, wrong. It is wholly unacceptable — no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican, told NBC News. “It should have never happened, and they better learn this lesson very quick.”

Mr. Chaffetz and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and the oversight panel’s ranking member, asked the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to look into the matter Thursday, saying the interview raised “extremely serious concerns.”

There’s an additional hurdle in that the president, the final arbiter of any discipline for White House employees, has an “inherent conflict of interest” because the matter involved his daughter’s business, the congressmen wrote in a letter to OGE Director Walter M. Shaub.

They asked Mr. Shaub to use his authority to recommend any disciplinary action, if necessary.

Mr. Cummings had said in a letter to Mr. Chaffetz that the comments appear to be a “textbook violation of government ethics laws.” Mr. Cummings had asked Mr. Chaffetz to have the committee refer Ms. Conway’s comments to OGE for potential disciplinary action.

She could face a suspension or some kind of warning, though the advocacy group Democratic Coalition Against Trump said they expect her to “resign immediately.”

Outside watchdog groups also levied complaints Thursday.

“Kellyanne Conway’s self-proclaimed advertisement for the Ivanka Trump fashion line demonstrates again what anyone with common sense already knew: President Trump and the Trump administration will use the government apparatus to advance the interests of the family businesses,” said Robert Weissman, president of the group Public Citizen.

Mr. Trump has tried to take steps to distance himself from his own real estate and golf course empire. He held a news conference shortly before taking office to announce that he was turning control of the Trump Organization over to his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.

Ms. Trump, meanwhile, has come to Washington, where her husband is serving as a top adviser in the White House, and she has fulfilled some of the roles normally filled by a first lady.

Still, Ms. Trump has maintained a line of clothing and accessories, which has become a target for anti-Trump boycotts.

Nordstrom announced it would no longer carry the brand because of poor sales, though Ms. Trump’s company said the numbers remained strong.

Mr. Trump jumped to defend his daughter on Twitter, saying she’d been treated “unfairly.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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