Democrats call for Conway investigation after Ivanka Trump plug

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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Counselor to President, Kellyanne Conway, prepares to appear on the Sunday morning show Meet The Press, from the north lawn at the White House, January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Conway discussed President Trump's recent visit to the CIA and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's first statement. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Donald Trump, was “counseled” after promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessory brand during an interview from the White House Thursday morning, as Democrats are now calling for an investigation into whether the comments broke government rules.

Conway, in a Fox News interview from the White House, urged people to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you,” Conway said. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully — I’m going to just, I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

The comments could run afoul with federal law that bars public employees from making an “endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during his daily briefing: “Kellyanne has been counseled. … She’s been counseled on that subject.”

The White House counsel’s office talked to Conway, not long after her appearance on “Fox & Friends,” an official told CNN. The counsel’s office informed her that what she said on television was at odds with ethical guidelines. The official said Conway did not push back, acknowledging her misstep.

The incident could spark a broader discussion inside the West Wing about conflicts of interest, the official said. White House counsel Don McGhan is in the process of making sure everyone is clear about rules and the law.

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland urged Chairman Jason Chaffetz to refer Conway to the government ethics watchdog office for potentially breaking rules barring government employees from endorsing private businesses.

Cummings pointed to the comments, writing to Chaffetz, R-Utah, “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 Maryland Democrat cited federal statutes, an executive order signed by President George W. Bush and regulations put out by the Office Government Ethics that prohibit using public office for personal gain.

Cummings argued that since the oversight panel has jurisdiction over laws addressing White House employees it should make the referral.

A spokeswoman for Cummings told CNN that the Maryland Democrat spoke by phone with Chaffetz and that they are drafting a joint letter to the Office of Government Ethics asking what penalty it would recommend for Conway.

In an interview Thursday afternoon with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Sen. Cory Booker said, Conway “clearly broke the law.”

He tied the incident into a broader criticism of Trump’s businesses, which he said remained a major cause for concern and caused the President to violate the Emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Different government agencies have different penalties for rules violations for employees using public office for private gain, with some imposing a five-day suspension to removal, and others recommending a two week suspension to removal for the offense.

It’s the latest in a string of ethics concerns raised about the Trump administration’s relationship with the family’s private businesses since he assumed office.

Spicer did not outline what he meant by Conway being “counseled.”

When pressed for details, Spicer simply said: “That’s it.”