News & Politics

Did Kellyanne Conway Crash the Office of Government Ethics’ Website?

It sure looks like it.

Screenshot via Fox News Channel.

Ethics watchdogs and other people interested in good government have had a tough time Thursday reaching the website of the Office of Government Ethics, the federal agency charged with making sure members of the executive branch follow the rules of public service. For most of the day, attempts to reach have resulted in error messages and web browsers timing out, and the trouble appears be reaching the entire internet.

A possible culprit: White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and her promotion on Fox & Friends of Ivanka Trump’s fashion label, which Nordstrom and other stores have recently stopped selling. Although Nordstrom has said its decision to stop selling Ivanka Trump-brand merchandise was a response to declining sales, the White House overtly politicized it Wednesday when President Trump tweeted his anger at the department store and White House press secretary Sean Spicer accused Nordstrom of making a “direct attack” on the Trump family. Conway carried it further on Fox News Thursday when she said “I’m going to give it a free commercial here” and that viewers should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”

It’s been tough to reach OGE’s website ever since, possibly because it’s been inundated with complaints that in plugging Ivanka’s brand, Conway violated a law that prohibits federal employees—including White House officials—from using their positions to explicitly endorse products.  In a series of tweets this afternoon, OGE advised that its website and other communications lines have been under intense loads recently.

To be sure, there’s no way to determine externally if the failure of OGE’s website to load out are the result of too many requests, but it’s a very strong signal. The “ERR_TIMED_OUT” message is generally a reliable indicator of a stressed-out web server. And there’s been renewed public interest in OGE’s ambit since last year’s election thanks to the web of business entanglements Trump’s presidency presents.

Conway’s shilling for her boss’s daughter might have more effects than just an overloaded website. In a rare instance of standing up to Trump’s White House, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, called Conway’s behavior “unacceptable” and “clearly over the line.” Chaffetz and his committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, also plan to send a joint letter to the White House and OGE asking for guidance on what kind of discipline Conway should face.

But penalties under the law Conway allegedly violated can be pretty wide-ranging. As it alluded to in its Twitter thread, OGE defers to the agency in question on enforcement and punishment, and each agency has its own set of guidelines. Penalties at the Fish and Wildlife Service, for instance, range from five-day suspensions to termination, while Customs and Border Protection starts at 14-day suspensions. The White House may have its own rubric. Spicer said during his briefing Thursday that Conway “has been counseled” about her Fox & Friends appearance, but did not go into any detail.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.