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White House Says Kellyanne Conway Doesn’t Have To Follow Ethics Rule – It Didn’t Go Well

Facing pressure over Kellyanne Conway’s blatant violation of ethics rules, the White House tried to claim that federal ethics rules didn’t apply to Conway or any of its employees.

In a letter responding to the flap over Kellyanne Conway’s promotion of first daughter Ivanka Trump’s Nordstrom merchandise, the White House said that “many” federal ethics regulations don’t apply to executive branch employees. That argument didn’t go well.

The Office of Government Ethics, responsible for making sure those rules are enforced, says that’s not true.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have written the White House counsel asking for clarification on the matter. “The President’s staff need to follow ethics rules — not flout them,” the letter read. “When they violate these rules, the President must impose discipline, not invent a legal fiction that these rules do not apply.”

The purpose of the letter was to explain what the White House was doing (or not doing) to discipline Conway after she endorsed Trump’s products from the White House, a violation of federal ethics rules.

On February 9, Conway appeared on Fox & Friends in the midst of a one-sided fight between President Trump and Nordstrom department stores. The popular retailer had recently announced that it would stop carrying products from Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. Conway, speaking from the White House briefing room, said, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you.”

Federal ethics rules prohibit employees in the executive branch from endorsing “any product, service, or enterprise.” On February 13, OGE Director Walter Shaub sent a letter to the White House recommending that “the employing agency investigate the matter and consider taking disciplinary action.”

But the top White House ethics official — Deputy Council for Compliance and Ethics Stefan Passantino — defended Conway against allegations of ethical violations saying that the president and vice president are exempt from certain regulations under the theory that they have so much power that any action could pose a potential conflict.

Trump, for his part, has touted this exemption in the past. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said in a November interview with the New York Times.

Of course, Trump may be exempt from certain regulations, but several lawsuits have been filed against him arguing he violates the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.

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