The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump In the past week, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway used a news interview to encourage people to buy Ivanka Trump products, and President Trump hosted Japan's Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
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The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump

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The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump

The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump

The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump

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In the past week, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway used a news interview to encourage people to buy Ivanka Trump products, and President Trump hosted Japan's Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump spent yesterday golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida. The visit has been controversial because Abe's staying at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in Palm Beach. It's the latest example of the blurred lines between Trump's businesses and his role as president. We're joined by NPR's Jim Zarroli, who's been covering the story. Hey, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. What's the problem with President Trump hosting a world leader at Mar-a-Lago?

ZARROLI: Well, this is a property that Trump owns. It's one of his flagship properties. You know, George W. Bush used to have world leaders - people visiting him at his ranch in Texas. But this is different because this is a working business that Trump owns. So the question that comes up is, who is paying for it? And is Donald Trump making money off an official state visit?

And then, really, this is just one more example of the problems that ethics experts have been talking about ever since Trump was elected. He has a lot of businesses, and he's going to have a lot of opportunities to profit off the presidency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Well, who is paying for this particular visit? Has Trump responded to the criticism?

ZARROLI: Yeah. He came out and said he would pay for the rooms himself, which addresses part of the problem but not all of it because, even if he does pay for the rooms, this is really good publicity for Mar-a-Lago. It's worldwide publicity. It's the kind of publicity that money can't buy. So ethics experts say he is still benefiting from having the prime minister there. And that's a problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The president also owns a hotel in Washington, D.C. And that's raised more ethical concerns. This week, NPR's Peter Overby reported that President Trump has put the hotel into what's called a revocable trust. What is that? What does it mean? And is that hotel no longer an issue?

ZARROLI: Yeah. The D.C. hotel has been a particular problem because it is owned by the federal government. It's a former post office. And Trump leased the building from the General Services Administration. And the lease says that the president or vice president or elected official isn't supposed to be on the lease. So there's a problem there right away.

Now, to address this, the president has turned over the management of the hotel to one of his sons. He's also placed the hotel in the revocable trust. That's meant to sort of create a barrier between the property itself and the president. But it doesn't really do that because the profits of the hotel still flow to the trust, which flows to Trump himself. And as the name implies, he can revoke it at any time he wants. So that doesn't really address the ethical issues.

And there's still a big question mark about - you know, what is the General Services Administration going to do? How are they going to handle this? There have been reports that the Trump Organization is in negotiations with the GSA to try to come up with some kind of solution to the problem. It's not clear what they're going to do.

You know, in the past, they've sort of come up with some half solutions to address issues like this - haven't always been, you know, satisfying to ethics people. But we may see some kind of resolution to this, you know - and soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. NPR's Jim Zarroli, thanks so much for joining us.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

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Kellyanne Conway Tells Americans To Buy Ivanka Trump's Products

Kellyanne Conway Tells Americans To Buy Ivanka Trump's Products

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A worker cleaned the windows of the Ivanka Trump Collection in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York last month. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

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Andrew Harnik/AP

A worker cleaned the windows of the Ivanka Trump Collection in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York last month.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Updated at 8 p.m. ET

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, may have violated federal ethics rules Thursday when she urged shoppers to buy Ivanka Trump's retail brand, following the decision by several retail companies to drop the line because of poor sales.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I was [saying] — I hate shopping and I'm going to go get some myself today," Conway said in an interview on Fox & Friends.

"This is just [a] wonderful line," she added. "I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."

Her comments drew sharp criticism from the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Republican Jason Chaffetz. "That is absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong. It is over the top," Chaffetz told reporters.

Chaffetz and the committee's ranking minority member, Democrat Elijah Cummings, asked the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in a letter to determine whether disciplinary action should be brought against Conway.

"Conway's statements clearly violate the ethical principles for federal employees and are unacceptable," the letter said.

"In this case, there is an additional challenge, which is that the President, as the ultimate disciplinary authority for White House employees, has an inherent conflict of interest since Conway's statements relate to his daughter's private business," it said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that Conway had been "counseled" over her remarks.

Conway, interviewed later Thursday, again on Fox, said she would have no comment on the counseling but had "spent an awful lot of time with the president of the United States this afternoon and he supports me 100 percent."

Federal ethics rules bar executive branch employees from profiting off their positions, but the statute exempts the president.

Conway, however, is a White House employee, and her comments urging people to buy the products appear to violate the rules, says Kathleen Clark, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

"The ethics regulation says government employees must not endorse any product, service or enterprise," Clark told NPR in an interview. She added:

"The broader rule is that government employees shouldn't use public office for private gain. They shouldn't use it for their own personal private gain or for somebody else's private gain. Public office should be used for the good of the public, for the good of the country, for the good of the government, rather than singling out her boss's daughter's enterprise and encouraging people to shop Ivanka."

Clark also noted that Trump's tweet Wednesday about his daughter was retweeted by someone from the official White House account @POTUS.

"That was a violation of the ethics regulation if it was done by anybody other than the president or the vice president. But even if the president himself did that, it was improper, because there he is using a government resource for his own personal vendetta," she said.

Meanwhile, the progressive group Public Citizen urged the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether Conway's comments violated the rules.

"Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered," said Robert Weissman, the organization's president.

"Kellyanne Conway's self-proclaimed advertisement for the Ivanka Trump fashion line demonstrates again what anyone with common sense already knew: President Trump and the Trump administration will use the government apparatus to advance the interests of the family businesses."

In the Fox interview, Conway suggested retailers are dropping the line because of politics.

"They're using her, who's been a champion for women in power and women in the workplace, to get to him. I think people can see through that," she said.

T.J. Maxx and Marshalls told employees last week to stop using signs promoting Ivanka Trump's brand and mix in her products with others the store sells to make them less prominent.

Nordstrom has also said that it would no longer sell Ivanka Trump jewelry and clothing because sales have been disappointing. Neither the company nor Ivanka Trump's brand released any sales figures.

The line is still carried by other retailers.

After Nordstrom's decision, President Trump himself tweeted that his daughter "has been treated so unfairly" by the chain, and his son Donald retweeted an article Thursday about angry store customers cutting up their credit cards.

It's not clear how shoppers will react to the clothing controversy.

Outside a Marshalls store in Washington, D.C., a housewife from Argentina wasn't impressed by all the controversy.

"If I like it, I buy it. If I don't, I don't," said Andrea Ponzio, 47. "It doesn't mean I wouldn't buy it because of any politics."

NPR intern Lucia Maffei contributed to this report.