Ethics Office chief calls out White House over failure to discipline Kellyanne Conway

James Tennent

The director of the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has criticised the White House's decision not to discipline Kellyanne Conway after she promoted Ivanka Trump's products on TV in early February. In a letter on Thursday (9 March), OGE Director Walter Shaub said that he remains "concerned about Ms. Conway's misuse of position".

Deputy Counsel to the President Stefan Passatino wrote to Shaub at the end of February, stating that the White House had "concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again", adding that she had been "counselled" over the incident.

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In his reply, Shaub said that "disciplinary action serves to deter future misconduct" and that "not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program".

Shaub also said he is concerned by the "extraordinary" claim in Passatino's letter that several OGE regulations do not apply to executive branch employees: "The assertion is incorrect, and the letter cites no legal basis for it," he replies.

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"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."

Passatino had asserted that "many regulations promulgated by the Office of Government Ethics do not apply to employees of the Executive Office of the President".

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Shaub echoed the OGE's concern over those remarks in another letter on Thursday, this time to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings.

In that letter, Shaub said that the OGE "disagrees with [Passatino's] assertions" and that they are "of greater concern" than the failure to reprimand Conway.

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