Top Trump aide faces probe after Ivanka brand plug

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A key aide to Donald Trump was facing possible investigation Thursday after pitching the clothing line of the president’s daughter Ivanka on television, in apparent contravention of ethics rules.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings led calls for Kellyanne Conway to face rebuke after she urged shoppers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” in reference to the first daughter’s fashion brand.

US President Donald Trump

“This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position,” the lawmaker said in a letter to a Congressional ethics panel.

Conway could face investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s aide had been “counselled” over the issue, without providing more detail.

Earlier Thursday Conway gave Ivanka Trump’s clothing a rave review during an interview with the Fox network, with the White House seal clearly visible over her left shoulder.

“This is just a wonderful line,” she said. “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 was clearly channeling the anger expressed a day earlier by the president himself, when he tweeted that Ivanka had been “treated so unfairly” by Nordstrom, the upscale department store chain that dropped her line. “Terrible,” he added.

But to Washington traditionalists, Conway’s direct pitch from the White House for a product line sold by the president’s child seemed a jaw-dropping use of presidential prestige.

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“The law is clear” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group which filed a separate complaint.

“This is just another example of what looks like a disturbing pattern of this administration acting to benefit the businesses of the president’s family and supporters.”

The message from the White House again fanned debate over the unprecedented level to which the new president — despite his protestations to the contrary — has mixed politics, business and family, raising questions about conflicts of interest.

The Office of Government Ethics said its website, phones and email system were “receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.”

Without mentioning Conway by name, it said it was reaching out to the appropriate government agencies who would decide whether to pursue the matter — the established protocol when the OGE learns of “possible ethics violations.”

– Boycott calls –

Since his election in November, Trump has targeted a series of American multinationals by name (General Motors, Ford, Boeing, Lockheed and others) for moving production overseas or for allegedly overcharging the government.

But this was the first time he had complained directly about the business interests of one of his adult children. The tweet appeared both in Trump’s personal feed and on that of the official presidential Twitter account, @POTUS.

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After Trump’s tweet, shares in Nordstrom briefly dropped but soon began to rise. Toward midday on Thursday, the company’s stock was trading up nearly seven percent over its closing price from two days earlier.

The Nordstrom group, with 350 stores in the United States and Canada, has repeatedly denied any political motive to its dropping of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, saying it was motivated purely by “performance” considerations. Sales had fallen, particularly in last year’s second half.

But products carrying a Trump brand, including Ivanka’s, have been boycotted by critics of the new president, leading to his complaint of a political motivation behind Nordstrom’s move.

TJX Companies, which operates the clothing store chains TJ Maxx and Marshalls, told AFP on Thursday it had instructed store employees no longer to display Ivanka Trump products separately.

“The communication we sent to TJ Maxx and Marshalls in the US instructed stores to mix this line of merchandise into our racks, not to remove it from the sales floor,” a spokesperson told AFP.

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