Conway's debacle is the latest ethics problem of President Trump
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When Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, stood in front of the White House seal in the White House briefing room to join Fox & Friends Thursday morning, most people probably expected her to give an impassioned defense of the president’s policies. Instead, she took time to give what she called a “free commercial” for the president’s daughter’s clothing line.

If you think that doesn’t sound like something she’d be allowed to do in her official capacity as a senior advisor to the president, you are right. So we filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics and the White House counsel to address her apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations, and traditional standards of conduct.

Conway’s pitch for Ivanka Trump’s business, which included telling Americans to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff…it’s a wonderful line…go buy it today, everybody, you can find it online,” comes on the heels of the president attacking Nordstrom on Twitter for its decision to no longer sell his daughter’s clothing line.

This was an unprecedented action by an American president—not just to attack an American company, but to do so for not engaging in business with his family. And it leads to a larger question about the priorities of this administration.

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The administration is less than three weeks old, but we are already deep into the selling of the presidency. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club doubled its membership fee to $200,000 five days after his inauguration. On Friday, he will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe there—at the club where he spends most weekends and which he has dubbed the “Winter White House”—instead of at a more traditional location like Camp David. All the news coverage of the meeting will serve as free advertising for his private club.

 

After a great outcry, the administration was forced to remove First Lady Melania Trump’s QVC line from her official White House biography. In a legal filing, her lawyers noted her great earning potential as First Lady. For any other administration, it would be unimaginable that the First Family would try to monetize its position.

But that is the essential conflict of the Trump administration, and it all comes back to the president’s unwillingness to part with his businesses. If he had sold his businesses as so many experts urged, he would have avoided many problems and set an entirely different tone.

As a result, we are forced to question even issues that should never need to be debated in the first place, like where the Department of Defense and Secret Service set up shop. With both agencies considering renting space in Trump Tower, it is hard to avoid raising questions.

Sadly, the threat of conflicts now permeates many key areas of national policy. If this White House appears to be so concerned with lining the pockets of the Trump family, what will happen when the president’s vast foreign business interests run up against American foreign policy?

That is already a significant concern as many countries accused of supporting or harboring terrorists were left off of president’s travel ban list, seemingly because he had business interests in those countries. Could he wield threat of an expanded travel ban to ensure his hotels and condos get preferential treatment overseas? If he needs to make the hardest decision a president can make, to put American troops in harm’s way, will he be thinking of their families or his own?

Every prior U.S. president came from a background of public service. President Trump did not, and we understand that this is new ground for him. It means it may be hard for him to get himself into a position where he places America’s interests before his own—something we’ve seen as he became the first president in decades not to release his tax returns or place his assets in a blind trust or widely held funds. But no one forced him to run for the presidency. He must recognize that public service takes sacrifice.

President Trump announced that his slogan is “America First.” It’s time he started applying that principle to his White House.

Noah Bookbinder is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. He served as director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at the United States Sentencing Commission from 2013 to 2015. He served as chief counsel for criminal justice for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2013.


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