White House Says Kellyanne Conway's Ethics Violation Was a One-Time Mistake

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb 23. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb 23. Susan Walsh/AP

The White House does not appear to be bowing to pressure to discipline special counselor Kellyanne Conway for her recent on-air endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, according to news reports Wednesday.

Conway’s plug on Fox News from the White House press briefing room to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” was a mistake that is “highly unlikely” to happen again, White House Deputy Counsel to the President for Compliance and Ethics Stefan Passantino wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub first reported by CNN.  In a Feb. 13 letter to Passantino, ethics chief Shaub had recommended that the White House investigate the incident and consider punishing Conway.

“Ms. Conway made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner while attempting to stand up for a person she believed had been unfairly treated and did so without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally,” Passantino wrote. “Both before and after receiving your letter, I personally met with Ms. Conway and advised her that her comments regarding Ms. Trump’s products implicated the prohibition on using one’s official position to endorse any product or service. Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the Standards [of Conduct] and has reiterated her commitment to abiding by them in the future.”

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The letter did not explicitly say the White House would not discipline Conway, but it did not mention any punishment.

Passantino also noted that the White House counsel’s office is training administration officials on ethics rules, including disclosure requirements, conflicts of interest, acceptance of gifts, travel regulations, records keeping laws, the Hatch Act, use of official resources and position, outside income and post-employment issues. “We are also continuously advising employees on an individual basis as questions arise in the course of their official duties,” he wrote.

Leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had expressed concern about Conway’s incident and on Wednesday, the ranking member of the committee expressed disappointment that the White House did not appear to be pursuing disciplinary action. “It’s a very bad sign that the president chose not to discipline Ms. Conway for blatantly violating the law,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a statement. “Other federal employees would likely be suspended for engaging in this conduct, and White House officials should not be held to a different standard.”

Cummings said he hopes President Trump will reconsider.

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