On Thursday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway sat in the White House briefing room and urged Americans to buy Ivanka Trump clothes on Fox News, explicitly calling it a "free commercial." House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and top Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), as promised, sent a joint letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, seeking advice on "appropriate disciplinary action (such as reprimand, suspension, demotion, or dismissal)" over Conway's comments.
"Conway's statements clearly violate the ethical principles for federal employees and are unacceptable," Chaffetz and Cummings wrote, as well as appear "to violate federal ethics regulations." They asked Shaub to "act promptly" and get back to them, even while noting a crucial "additional challenge, which is that the president, as the ultimate disciplinary authority for White House employees, has an inherent conflict of interest since Conway's statements relate to his daughter's private business."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Thursday that Conway had been "counseled" on the issue, and appearing on Fox News on Thursday afternoon, Conway described that counseling as "a very heartening moment" because Trump "supports me 100 percent." Trump, Conway, and Spicer all accused Nordstrom of dumping the Ivanka Trump brand for political reasons, but a new report from Slice Intelligence backs up Nordstrom's contention that it was purely a business decision. According to Slice, online sales of Ivanka Trump goods fell 26 percent last quarter versus the year prior, and 63 percent at Nordstrom online alone.
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On CNN on Thursday night, Cristina Alesci explained that Ivanka Trump executives told her a few months ago the brand was targeting millennial women in urban areas — the demographic perhaps most opposed to President Trump's policies. Still, she added, the blowback over Conway's comments "may not amount to much, because enforcement falls within the White House."
That's not to say nothing will come of l'affaire Nordstrom. The nonpartisan watchdog group the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is asking for a Justice Department investigation of Conway and White House social media chief Dan Scavino, who retweeted Trump's Nordstrom tweet from the official POTUS account. On Wednesday, Obama administration ethics lawyer Norm Eisen offered to help Nordstrom sue Trump under unfair competition laws. "I do believe Nordstrom has a colorful claim," Eisen told MSNBC. "This will be another place where the courts will remind [Trump] he's not above the law."
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