Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, may have violated federal ethics rules on Thursday by urging people to buy fashion products marketed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, legal experts said.
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say,” Ms. Conway, whose title is counselor to the president, said in an interview with Fox News. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online.”
Federal ethics rules state that an employee of the government’s executive branch “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.” Legal experts said Ms. Conway appeared to have violated those rules.
“You couldn’t think of a clearer example of violating the ban of using your government position as kind of a walking billboard for products or services offered by a private individual,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard. “She is attempting quite crudely to enrich Ivanka and therefore the president’s family.”
Ms. Conway’s comments came a day after Mr. Trump used his personal and White House Twitter accounts to lash out at Nordstrom, the department store chain, for dropping his daughter’s line, saying that the company had treated her “so unfairly.” The comments raised the latest in a series of ethical questions about potential conflicts between his official role and his family’s business interests.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Public Citizen, nonprofit advocacy group, asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether Ms. Conway’s comments went over the line.
“This seems to us to be about as clear-cut a violation as you can find,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility.
Lawrence M. Noble, formerly the top lawyer and ethics officer at the Federal Election Commission, said the ethics rules exempted the president and vice president, but not other Executive Office employees such as Ms. Conway.
“I think this is a violation, but I’d like to hear an argument as to why it’s not,” said Mr. Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit advocacy group. “She was speaking on behalf of the White House, in her official position, which makes it more serious.”
Ordinarily, such conduct would be handled with a letter of reprimand, though it could lead to termination, he said. In rare cases, it could be referred to the Justice Department for civil or even criminal penalties.
Richard W. Painter, who served as the chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, said Ms. Conway’s conduct would not have been tolerated in that administration. He said he would not offer a judgment on whether she had broken the rules, but he voiced dismay at the message the White House was sending.
“The events of the past week demonstrate that there is no intent on the part of the president, his family or the White House staff to make meaningful distinctions between his official capacity as president and the Trump family business,” he said. Mr. Painter said of Mr. Trump’s aides, “Instead of trying to push him back on this, they’re jumping in this and shilling for the businesses alongside him.”
Nordstrom, one of several retailers to reduce or eliminate its ties to Ms. Trump’s line of clothes, jewelry and accessories, said it was purely a business decision based on sales performance.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump was responding to “an attack on his daughter.” It was not clear if he was referring to a specific action by Nordstrom or to calls to boycott businesses bearing the Trump name, and he did not elaborate.
Like Mr. Spicer, Ms. Conway said that Ms. Trump was being targeted by people who disliked her father. “They’re using her,” she said, “to get to him.”
The president and his daughter have pledged to distance themselves from their various businesses. Ms. Trump has stepped away from her leadership role at the Ivanka Trump brand, and she and her father have resigned as executives at the Trump Organization.
But the president and Ms. Trump still maintain strong financial ties to their companies. Mr. Trump will continue to receive reports on the financial performance of the Trump Organization. And Ms. Trump still retains a financial interest in her brand.
Much as her father has over the years, Ms. Trump licenses her name to various partners that manufacture and market her products. Macy’s, the country’s largest department store chain, sells her shoes and clothes.