It’s hard to determine what Kellyanne Conway’s worst faux pas was from the last couple of months that she has served as a counselor to President Trump. Is it the Bowling Green Massacre? Her casual use of the term “alternative facts“? Or perhaps it’s her promotion of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line during an episode of “Fox and Friends.”
Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), is particularly concerned by Conway’s attempt to advertise Ivanka’s products after they were yanked from the shelves of department stores like Nordstrom last month. What seems to trouble Shaub the most is the fact that Conway has not received any discipline for her inappropriate behavior.
On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that Shaub wrote a letter to White House deputy counsel Stefan Passantino detailing his exact concerns pertaining to the White House’s lack of action. The letter was a response to one he received from Passantino in February explaining the reasoning for not disciplining Conway.
According to Passantino, the Office of the White House Counsel determined that Conway “acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.” Passantino also said that Conway’s comments were made in a “light, off-hand manner” and “without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally.”
Despite Passantino’s belief in the innocuousness of Conway’s call for people to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Shaub remains wary. He explained in his response to Passantino that he believes the lack of disciplinary action “risks undermining the ethics program.”
‘Your letter concedes that her televised statements from the White House press briefing room implicated the prohibition on using one’s official position to endorse any product or service. When an employee‘s conduct violates 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702, disciplinary action serves to deter future misconduct. Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program.’
Shaub went on to express his concerns over a claim Passantino made about “many” ethics regulations not being applicable to employees to the President.
‘The assertion is incorrect, and the letter cites no legal basis for it. Presidential administrations have not considered it appropriate to challenge the applicability of ethics rules to the entire executive branch. It is critical to the public’s faith in the integrity of government that White House employees be held to the same standard of ethical accountability as other executive branch employees.’
Shaub originally wrote to Passantino at the request of the ranking Democrat in the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings. Shaub also sent a letter Thursday to Cummings and the chairman of the committee, Jason Chaffetz, explaining the response he received from Passantino.
In the letter, Shaub explained to Chaffetz and Cummings that the “OGE cannot impose disciplinary action on an executive branch employee other than an OGE employee.” He also added that the White House has made it clear that “disciplinary action will not be taken” and reiterated his concerns about this decision:
‘Of greater concern, the White House‘s response includes assertions challenging the applicability of ethics rules and OGE’s authority to oversee the ethics program for. the entire executive branch. OGE disagrees with these assertions.’
Both of Shaub’s letters can be read here.
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