White House’s War on Nordstrom Is So Unhip, Ethics Experts Say
“This is misuse of public office for private gains,” Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Beast.
If you don’t carry Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, you’re attacking the President of the United States.
That was the rather unusual line of argument delivered by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday after the retailing giant Nordstrom decided to drop Ivanka Trump’s label due to struggling sales performance. And it was immediately criticized by some leading government ethics specialists.
“This is misuse of public office for private gains,” Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Beast. “And it is abuse of power because the official message is clear—Nordstrom is persona non grata with the Administration. Nordstrom will have a due process argument and possibly even a claim when there is any adverse action by the executive branch against it, perhaps a right to discovery as to whether political appointees embarked on a vendetta. This creates a potential litigation mess for the federal government.”
“I have never seen a senior administration official lash out at a particular company based upon a strictly personal grudge,” Painter added.
During Wednesday’s daily press briefing, reporter Hallie Jackson asked Spicer how, as the elder Trump described it, Nordstrom was treating his daughter “unfairly.”
“I think there’s clearly a targeting of her brand,” Spicer responded. “While she’s not directly running the company, it’s still her name on it. And there’s clearly efforts that—to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken.”
“She is getting maligned because of his policies,” Spicer concluded.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a Nordstrom spokesperson wrote: “We made this decision based on performance. Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now. We've had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we've seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”
The decision to drop her line of clothing did arrive, however, after Trump’s controversial executive order which temporarily banned entry to the United States for individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. In addition, there had been a social media-originated boycott of Ivanka Trump’s products called “Grab Your Wallet.”
The president took to Twitter on Wednesday to hit back, writing on his personal account: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” The message was retweeted on the official @POTUS account, prompting an outcry from some ethics experts who saw it as less of a defense of a family member—and more a blurring of the lines between the family’s business interests and those of the presidency.
Norm Eisen, previously an administration ethics czar for President Obama, called the tweet “outrageous” and suggested that Nordstrom could perhaps sue. Eisen did not respond to a request for further comment from The Daily Beast.
Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School, told The Daily Beast that he didn’t think the tweet was a big deal, however.
He cited a reported incident in which President Harry Truman bashed a Washington Post music critic who said that Truman’s daughter was not a great singer.
“Well it is mild in comparison to what Washington Post music critic Paul Hume received from President Harry Truman after he panned her singing performance by simply saying "Miss Truman cannot sing very well,” Turley wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Truman wrote to Hume to say that he was a ‘frustrated old man’ who he would like to punch in the nose and kick in the groin. Presidents do not stop being fathers and the license afforded fathers regarding their daughters is far greater than any executive privilege reviewed by the Supreme Court. Consider it inherent parental power where authority is plenary and judicial review is minimal.”
Turley concluded that “There remains an uneasy status with regard to these businesses interests for his son-in-law but Trump falls under the Truman rule.”
Painter thought that comparison was dubious telling The Daily Beast that Truman mouthing off like that “has nothing to do with attacking an entire company for dropping a line of clothing.”
“Furthermore, that was one of the rare instances in which Truman lost his temper with the press over his two terms in office. We have been three weeks in and temper tantrums at the press seem to come every day,” Painter concluded.
Meanwhile, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls employees were reportedly told to put Ivanka Trump product signs in the trash, providing further potential fodder for the reactionary president.
The White House has not responded to The Daily Beast when asked if Trump was aware of this recent news.