Guess what Kellyanne Conway—your team just broke the law.
As a White House counselor to President Donald Trump, Republican strategist and pollster and campaign manager, you’re used to talking to the press all the time.
Here’s a little tip.
You can’t do spontaneous PR spots for the President’s daughter’s merchandise.
You see, although it’s a stellar PR opportunity it violates this teeny tiny problem called federal law.
From a business standpoint, brilliant move.
Especially when Nordstrom (because the products just aren’t selling and of course, millions of dead, illegal immigrants just aren’t buying her shoes), Shoes.com, Jet, Shopstyle, Gilt, Belk, TJ Maxx, Neiman Marcus, Marshalls, Shopstyle, and more have dropped the lines.
However, doing a spontaneous PR spot for Ivanka Trump to hawk her merchandise on Fox & Friends, a live TV show with Steve Doocy, is a violation of a longtime federal law which bars executive branch employees from endorsing products, services and companies. See the full video below.
This means statements like, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I’m going to tell you … I hate shopping and that’s what I’m going to do today” is against federal law.
This means saying, “it’s a wonderful line, I own some of it myself,” is against federal law.
“I’m going to give a free commercial here … go buy it today online,” is against the law.
You are an employee of the federal branch of the government. You can’t do that.
You most definitely can’t do it from the Briefing Room of the White House.
But don’t take our word for it.
Listen to Chris Lu, a former Obama administration official, pointed to a specific legal provision: “An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations.”
Government Ethics (OGE) Director Walter Shaub posted a reminder of the rule to the OGE’s website shortly after Donald Trump tweeted his support for LL Bean as then President-elect, encouraging his followers to buy their products. One of the planks of the rule is that executive branch employees are barred from “endorsing any product, service, or company.”
We get it; monkey see, monkey do, Conway.
Yes, we know your boss, and the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump once tweeted his support for LL Bean as President-elect.
Yes, we know your boss encouraged others to buy LL Bean’s products.
You—as an executive branch employee—cannot “endorse any product, service, or company.”
Neither can he, because he’s the President of the United States of America.
This means you can’t do it for anything, even your boss’ daughter’s line. Not even on the day after your boss and President Donald Trump tweeted at Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s line, writing that she had been “treated so unfairly.”
And really, what’s calling in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer going to do?
Yes, Spicer, we know that, “you think this is less about his family business and more about an attack on his daughter. That they’re looking for someone to take out his concern on his policies on a family member of his is not acceptable and the President has every right as a father to stand up for them.”
Guilt by association is wrong; nepotism is tricky.
But wait, this begs another question: if Ivanka Trump has publicly announced that she has divorced herself from the family business, how is she being treated unfairly?
It’s her name. Yes.
It’s her brand. Yes.
Her brand’s eponymous name. Oh. Epiphany.
Spicer said, “it’s a direct attack on his policies and her name. That is clearly an attempt for him to stand up for her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”
So are Trump’s brands separate from his policies?
Is it possible to even do? Think about it.
Robert Weissman, of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, said, “It is important that every executive branch employee be aware of the rule against misuse of position. By focusing on this rule and their other basic ethical obligations, employees can truly honor the principle that public service is a public trust.”
Now, was let’s split some hairs.
Did you create a free commercial?
You said you did by your own admission.
“Since she said it was an advertisement, that both eliminates any question about whether outsiders are unfairly reading into what’s being said, and two, it makes clear that wasn’t an inadvertent remark,” Weissman said.
Now, we’re going to give you a few key tips so you’ll don’t get us nuked, stir up Australia, or send in Seal Team 6 to overthrow Nordstrom, or have another whoops-a-daisy.
- Change Trump’s Twitter password.
Here’s how you do it.
- Tell him to come downstairs for any and all Situation Room briefings. It’s cool if he’s in his jammies. He can even buy some from Ivanka’s line. He just can’t brag about the brand.
- Stop telling people to buy stuff. This is democracy; not a commercial for clothes.
- If they don’t buy your stuff, don’t create another Twitter account and freak out about it.
It’s going to be a long four years.
As of this writing, neither Conway nor the Trump administration have responded to the allegations of ethics violations.