With each passing day since president Trump’s inauguration, whatever theoretical line may have existed between the new administration and the Trump family has become increasingly blurry. The point we’ve arrived at now is that the line is barely visible.
The president’s senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, used an appearance on Fox and Friends Thursday morning to specifically endorse a line of clothing and accessories sold by a company founded by the President’s Daughter, Ivanka Trump.
Conway, who appeared from the White House briefing room, was asked about the decision by Nordstrom, the department store chain, to stop carrying Ms. Trump’s products. The company said that the decision was based on the fact that the brand was not selling well.
She replied, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would say. I hate shopping — I'm going to buy stuff today.” She continued, “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it...I fully — I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
Critics were quick to point out that Conway appears to have violated at least the spirit of the federal law with the statement. The Code of Federal Regulations notes that federal employees, “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.”
But it has become clear that President Trump and his closest advisers no longer seem to care much about the niceties of federal conflict of interest laws. Clear, too, is that Trump’s advisors, and Trump himself, are placing the larger Trump family’s business interests under the protection of the White House’s bully pulpit.
Trump on Wednesday used his personal Twitter account to blast Nordstrom for treating his daughter “unfairly.” He then used his official @POTUS account to retweet the criticism.
For its part, Nordstrom explained in a statement, “Over the past year and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.”
In a press briefing later that day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked whether it was appropriate for the president to use his position to attack a private business for a decision involving his daughter.
“I think this is less about his family's business and an attack on his daughter,” Spicer said. “He ran for president. He won. He's leading this country. I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”
“There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name," Spicer added in answer to a follow-up. “She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”
In her appearance on Fox Thursday, Conway continued in that line, insisting that the Nordstrom decision was part of a broader attack on the Trump family by unspecified retailers. Conway claimed that she had seen “some executives all over the internet bragging about what they've done to her and her line,” though she offered no specifics.
The willingness of the Trump White House to send out government employees to defend a private business that profits a member of the Trump family -- and the president’s own decision to get involved -- has government ethics experts tied in knots.
Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center said in an appearance on CNN Wednesday, “He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings.”