The White House ethics office cleared Kellyanne Conway of any “nefarious” wrongdoing this week, saying the right-hand aide to President Donald Trump didn’t mean to plug Ivanka Trump’s clothing line in public remarks made weeks ago, but rather was speaking in an “off-hand manner” to defend a friend.
Specifically, the ethics office said Conway acted “inadvertently” when she suggested Americans ought to go buy Trump’s clothing at retailers.
Conway’s remark came during a Feb. 9 Fox News interview after she was asked for her response to top retailers’ decision to abandon Trump’s fashion line and stop selling the items because of political pressures. Conway quipped that Americans ought to fight back and “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
After, she also said: “I own some of it. I fully – I’m going to just, going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
Democrats rallied to express outrage, accusing Conway of using her high tax-paid position to press a private business interest.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics, meanwhile, an executive-level agency that’s independent of the White House, warned Conway and the Trump administration that it had “strong reason” to believe ethics rules were violated. The agency has yet to rule on the matter.
Even some in the Republican Party distanced themselves from Conway, saying her remarks were, at best, inappropriate.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called for the White House Office of Compliance and Ethics to issue a ruling about Conway’s comments.
“That was wrong, wrong, wrong,” Chaffetz said to NBC, in the immediate aftermath of Conway’s comments. “It is wholly unacceptable. No if, ands or buts about it.”
And this week, the ethics office released its determination, via a letter.
Stefan Passantino, who heads up the White House’s ethics office, said in part: “[Conway] made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner … without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally.”
Passantino also wrote, “We concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.”
He recognized Conway was simply defending Ivanka Trump and wasn’t seeking to profit.
“[She was] attempting to stand up for a person she believed had been unfairly treated,” he wrote. “This administration is committed to complying with the ethical obligations set forth in the Standards of Conduct. Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the standards and has reiterated her commitment to abiding by them in the future.”