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Conway Should Be Investigated For Plugging Ivanka Trump Products, Ethics Agency Says

The government ethics office says it has reason to believe disciplinary action is warranted against senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for inappropriate comments on TV.
Evan Vucci
The government ethics office says it has reason to believe disciplinary action is warranted against senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for inappropriate comments on TV.

Office of Government Ethics Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. is recommending an investigation and possible disciplinary action be taken against Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to President Trump, for urging shoppers to buy fashion products sold by Trump's daughter Ivanka.

"Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted," Shaub wrote in a letter to White House deputy counsel Stefan C. Passantino.

Conway appeared on Fox and Friends Thursday morning, where she addressed Nordstrom's recent decision to stop selling Ivanka Trump's line of products because of what it said were poor sales.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, and I'm gonna go get some on myself today," Conway said.

Ivanka Trump has a successful line of clothing, jewelry and shoes that is carried by numerous retailers.

But a boycott of Trump products got underway last year after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, and that appears to have hurt Ivanka's sales.

Her product line "was successful enough that these companies would have all kept carrying it on its own merits had this not happened," says retail consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen. "They weren't just carrying it because it was Ivanka Trump selling it. They were carrying it because it was actually selling to a customer."

In recent weeks, several large retailers have dropped all or part of the line, while others have chosen to de-emphasize it in their stores.

"They're all just stepping out of the way. They're saying, 'We don't want to be in a fight with the president, but we don't want to be in a fight with our customers either. We're getting out of the way,' " Kniffen says.

"She has tied herself to a very controversial figure that many women believe is trying to take them back to the 15th century. Anyone associated [with] Donald Trump is toxic," says Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants.

But the retailers' decision did not sit well with President Trump, who accused Nordstrom in a tweet last week of treating his daughter "so unfairly." Conway echoed the charge on TV.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer later said Conway had been "counseled" about her comments. Trump himself has not addressed Conway's remarks, and she told an interviewer later that day that she had the president's full support.

Shaub said in the letter that his office had not received any indication of "disciplinary or other corrective action against Ms. Conway."

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz, and ranking minority member Elijah Cummings said in a letter that Conway's comments "appear to violate federal ethics regulations."

Shaub said in his letter to the White House that Conway had violated rules "prohibiting employees from misusing their official positions."

Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen, praised Shaub for seeking disciplinary action against Conway.

"We can only hope that the Trump White House responds positively to the call to discipline Kellyanne Conway for her transgressions — statements that never would have been made had she subjected herself to the most elementary standards. But forgive us if we don't hold our breath. Conway's promotion of Ivanka's products followed the example of President Trump and was intended to curry favor with the president (apparently successfully)."

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Corrected: February 13, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous headline stated the director of the Office of Government Ethics said Kellyanne Conway should be disciplined. The director said his office says it has reason to believe that disciplinary action is warranted. A previous caption also indicated that the office said she should be disciplined.
Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.