When White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told the audience of Fox & Friends to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” last week, referring to President Trump’s daughter, it seemed like a clear violation of government ethics rules. The Office of Government Ethics’ director agrees — and he wants the White House to investigate and discipline Conway.
“I’m going to give a free commercial here,” Conway said from the podium of the White House briefing room on February 9. “Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
“There is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted,” Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote in a letter addressed to Stefan Passantino, the deputy White House counsel who is Trump’s top ethics official.
The letter, obtained by NBC News, makes clear that Conway and other officials were trained on ethics guidelines before President Trump took office:
BREAKING: US Office of Gov't Ethics recommends White House consider taking disciplinary action against Kellyanne Conway. pic.twitter.com/pSGIEF7NFG— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) February 14, 2017
The federal government can punish employees by giving them an official letter of warning or “counseling,” suspending them without pay, demoting them, or even firing them.
Press secretary Sean Spicer said at the time that Conway was “counseled.” But the ethics office hasn’t been informed about any official disciplinary action, Shaub noted in the letter. He gave Passantino a deadline of February 28 to investigate and to report back on the matter and any disciplinary measures the White House will take.
This is about as much as Shaub is able to do. The Office of Government Ethics can direct a federal agency to investigate. If the White House ignores the request and lets the deadline pass, the matter could go to a hearing, where a judge could recommend a punishment for Conway. (The ethics office’s counsel could also weigh in on the matter himself.) In the end, though, it would be just a recommendation. It’s not binding. Actually punishing Conway is still up to Trump himself.