Last Updated Feb 9, 2017 5:16 PM EST
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway urged Americans to buy Ivanka Trump’s brand while she appeared on Fox.
“I’m gonna just going to give a free commercial here,” she said on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday. ”Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.” Her comments come a day after President Donald Trump complained on Twitter that retailer Nordstrom (JWN) had treated his daughter “so unfairly” by dropping her brand of clothing and shoes.
Ivanka Trump’s fashion line has come under pressure due to an anti-Donald Trump boycott called #grabyourwallet, which since last October has been urging consumers to snub retailers that sell brands tied to Trump family businesses. Her women’s clothing, shoes and handbags have become a particular focal point of the #grabyourwallet campaign, which continues to pick up steam as some voters are looking for ways to express their concerns about the administration.
Nordstrom said last week it would stop carrying the Ivanka Trump brand because of poor sales, citing the move as tied to a business decision rather than politics.
Conway seemed to scoff at that notion Thursday. “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you,” she said on Fox. “I’m going to -- hate shopping -- and I’m going to go get some myself today.”
Conway, as a counselor to Mr. Trump, is a federal employee. Her urging of American voters to buy Ivanka Trump’s products quickly raised questions given a federal ethics rule that bars officials from using their roles to promote products. Federal law says “an employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”
Asked on Fox about the #grabyourwallet boycott, Conway pivoted to make remarks critical of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton before returning to Ivanka Trump and the boycott against her products. “They had the first female president everybody thought, talking about that day and night. She had no message, no positive message,” Conway said. “They’re welcome to march but what’s coming of it in terms of you know commercial interest. She’s -- this is just a wonderful line.”
On social media, the pushback was immediate, with complaints that Conway had crossed an ethical line and possibly violated federal employment rules that would require an official reprimand from her boss, President Trump.
A liberal-funded organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, swiftly filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, asking it to “investigate this apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations, and other standards of conduct, and take any necessary disciplinary action.”
Shannon Coulter, co-founder of the #GrabYourWallet campaign, told CBS MoneyWatch in an email: “What we’re seeing with this administration is just how much Team Trump intends to use the office of the presidency primarily as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Since greed has apparently rendered them incapable of resolving their own conflicts of interest, the American people are doing it for them.”
In Congress, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested in a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz “that the Committee refer for potential disciplinary action statements made on national television by Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to President Donald Trump, that directly promoted and endorsed the President’s daughter’s private business.” Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, soon signed on, stating about Conway’s comments on Twitter, “What she did was wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Asked at a White House press briefing Thursday if Conway had crossed an ethical line, Chief Spokesman Sean Spicer answered, “Kellyanne has been counseled on that subject, and that’s all -- I’m going to leave it at that.”
Spicer had said Wednesday that Trump was responding to an “attack on his daughter” when he posted the tweet and that “he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”
Ethics lawyers had a different interpretation. The implication, intended or not: Hurt my daughter’s business, and the Oval Office will come after you.
“This is a shot across the bow to everybody who is doing business with Trump or his family,” CREW co-founder Norman Eisen, who was President Barack Obama’s chief ethics counselor, told the Associated Press. “It’s warning them: Don’t withdraw their business.”
Trump’s son Donald Jr. tweeted a link Thursday to a story on the Breitbart conservative news website saying that women across the country are cutting up their Nordstrom cards and planning boycotts after the decision to drop his sister’s brand.
Though Trump has tweeted about companies such as Boeing, Carrier and General Motors, ethics experts say this time was different because it involved his daughter’s business, raising conflict-of-interest concerns.
Ethics experts have criticized Trump’s plan to separate himself from his sprawling real estate business by handing managerial control to his two adult sons. The experts want him to sell his company. Most modern presidents have sold their financial holdings and put the cash raised in a blind trust whose investments remained unknown to them.
Eisen joined with other legal scholars and lawyers to sue the president last month for allegedly violating a clause in the Constitution that prohibits government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.
Trump and his top aides have repeatedly said that Americans do not care about what Eisen and other ethics critics say. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” Trump wrote on Twitter Nov. 21.
Nordstrom reiterated Wednesday that its decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s brand was based on its performance, not politics. The company said sales of her items had steadily declined over the past year, particularly in the last half of 2016, “to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.