Team Trump struggles to hide its indifference toward ethics laws

Team Trump is made up of people who are convinced that rules are intended for others, not themselves.
Image: Ivanka Trump speaks during a meeting in the East Room of the White House.
Ivanka Trump speaks during a meeting in the East Room of the White House.Evan Vucci / AP file
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By Steve Benen

At a White House event last week, Goya CEO Robert Unanue said, “We're all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder.” This, not surprisingly, didn't sit well with some Goya customers, who responded to the CEO's comments by saying they'd take their business elsewhere.

The White House is now pushing back in the opposite direction.

Ivanka Trump tweeted support for Goya Foods on Tuesday after comments from the company's top executive in support of President Donald Trump last week prompted calls to boycott the brand. “If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” the president’s daughter, who serves as a formal adviser to the president in the White House, tweeted late Tuesday in both English and Spanish along with a photo of her posing with can of black beans.

What the public saw, in effect, is a prominent White House official using her platform to do a commercial for a private company. If you're thinking there must be federal ethics law prohibiting such an abuse, you're right.

In fact, federal ethics laws are not ambiguous in areas like these: "An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise ... "

Generous observers may be tempted to say Ivanka Trump, who had no real background in government or public service before taking a powerful position on her father's team, simply didn't know about legal limits before endorsing the private company's products.

That, however, seems rather hard to believe given the familiarity of the circumstances.

Less than a month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Kellyanne Conway appeared on national television and encouraged the public to buy Ivanka Trump’s merchandise. The Office of Government Ethics wasn’t pleased, warning the White House there was “strong reason” to believe the presidential aide misused her office and violated ethics rules.

The trouble, of course, is that Team Trump doesn't care about ethical limitations. Indeed, members of Team Trump have said so, out loud and on the record, more than once.

Last year, when Kellyanne Conway was pressed on her ethical transgressions, she told a reporter, “Blah, blah, blah.” The same week, a prominent HUD official -- who used to be a Trump family wedding planner -- acknowledged that some of her political rhetoric may run afoul of ethics rules, but she wrote on Facebook, "Either way, I honestly don’t care anymore.”

And that's what makes Ivanka Trump's latest gambit so notable: it's not her endorsement of a product; it's her and her colleagues' indifference toward ethical limits.

Team Trump is made up of people who are convinced that rules are intended for others, not themselves.