Fed Ethics Site Goes Down, Flooded By Kellyanne Conway Complaints
A once obscure government office reaches new heights of popularity
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics website was knocked offline for hours on Thursday — apparently by hordes of visitors eager to report the latest scandal from President Donald Trump’s administration.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Fox News, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway urged Americans to buy products stamped with the name of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, admitting her own remarks were “a free commercial.” The day before, President Trump had tweeted angrily about department store Nordstrom because it dropped Ivanka’s fashion line, citing poor sales.
Federal law states “An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated.” This is why former White House ethics lawyers balked at Conway’s words, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) called them “unacceptable,” and nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has already filed a complaint with OGE.
For several hours on Thursday, OGE was completely inaccessible, leaving people on social media to speculate why. Late in the afternoon, the office explained:
1/OGE’s website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) February 9, 2017
People may have known to visit the OGE because it has previously been critical of Trump’s connections to his businesses. Director Walter Shaub has referred to Trump’s initial press conference on the topic, in which he stood by stacks of white paper and claimed all his interests were now in a blind trust before taking a handful of contentious questions and leaving, as “wholly inadequate.”
As of press time, the site was still down. On Twitter, however, OGE stressed that it doesn’t actually have the power to investigate ethics violations — that’s the purview of the FBI, the Government Accountability Office, and the Office of Special Counsel — but that it had notified the appropriate agencies.