Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016.
Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP

Kellyanne Conway endorses Ivanka Trump’s merchandise

Donald Trump, already beset by a series of conflict-of-interest controversies, broke new ground yesterday: the Republican president used his office to chastise an American company for no longer selling his daughter’s merchandise. In case this isn’t obvious, we’re not accustomed to seeing the chief executive of a superpower exploit his platform to interfere in his daughter’s retailing opportunities.

Making matters worse, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Nordstrom’s decision to stop selling Ivanka Trump’s products represented an “attack.”

And just when it seemed this story couldn’t get more ridiculous, a prominent member of Team Trump turned things up a notch.
During a Thursday morning Fox & Friends interview, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told viewers to buy products from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.

This comes the day after Donald Trump tweeted angrily at Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s line, writing that she had been “treated so unfairly.” Conway referred to Ivanka as a “champion for women empowerment, women in the workplace,” before adding, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, and I’m gonna go get some on myself today.”
Hmm. A White House official – which is to say, a public official whose salary is paid by American taxpayers – appeared on national television this morning in what looked like the press briefing room in the West Wing. She then used that platform to, in effect, do a little commercial/testimonial in support of her boss’ daughter’s merchandise, encouraging people to buy Trump products.

It wasn’t long before knowledgeable observers started asking whether this was even legal.

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.”

We’ll see whether or not Conway feels the need to walk back her comments, and what Sean Spicer has to say about it, but for now, it’s hard not to get the impression that the Trump White House looks at ethics rules and laws as little more than an inconvenient punch-line.