President Trump has been obliterating existing norms about using his office for personal enrichment. “Norms” is the key word — federal law strictly regulates conflicts of interest of every federal employee except the president, who is assumed (or was assumed, before Trump came along) to refrain from using his office for personal gain. In their few weeks in office, Trump’s staff have apparently gotten comfortable enough with the arrangement that they are now routinely blending their roles as spokespeople for Trump the president and Trump the brand. Kellyanne Conway used an interview from the White House this morning to officially endorse the Ivanka Trump product line.
This appears to be completely illegal. Federal law is pretty clear about this:
Kellyanne Conway is a federal employee. A federal employee may not “use his public office for his own private gain [or] for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.” And this was definitely an endorsement. Conway said, “This is just 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.”
Conway has gotten used to channeling Trump’s beliefs and advocating his interests. But she seems to have forgotten that a legal loophole allows him to engage in wildly kleptocratic behavior without any legal consequences, but if she does the same it’s not merely unethical but actually illegal.
Update: The Washington Post adds more reporting, confirming that Conway appears to have clearly violated federal ethics laws. While the violation seems undisputable, enforcement is typically handled by the employee’s federal agency: “Enforcement measures are largely left to the head of the federal agency — in Conway’s case, the White House,” reports the Post, “One lawyer said a typical executive-branch employee who violated the rule could face significant disciplinary action, including a multi-day suspension and loss of pay.”