White House adviser and President’s daughter Ivanka Trump may have violated a government ethics rule when she posted a photo of herself holding a can of black beans Tuesday night.
“If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” she captioned a photo, displaying the canned frijoles Vanna White-style, adding in a translation, “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
The post came in response to boycotts of the brand and social media outrage from consumers and some Hispanic leaders after the company’s CEO Robert Unanue praised President Donald Trump in a Rose Garden event last week.
“We are all truly blessed … to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder,” Unanue said. “We have an incredible builder, and we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president.”
Unanue repeated the remarks in a Friday interview, telling Fox News he was “not apologizing” and calling the subsequent boycott movement “suppression of speech.”
Later Wednesday, the President continued his efforts to promote the brand, posting a photo of himself alongside a slew of Goya products. Trump posed, smiling with his thumbs up, before beans, seasoning, coconut milk and chocolate wafers set on the historic Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
Goya is the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned company and is a privately held business. It remains unclear how calls to boycott have impacted business, but the President claimed in a Wednesday morning tweet that Goya is “doing GREAT.”
“The Radical Left smear machine backfired, people are buying like crazy!” Trump tweeted.
But his daughter and West Wing adviser could have violated a federal ethics rule with her message. The United States Office of Government Ethics, which is aimed at “preventing conflicts of interest in the executive branch,” has guidelines on endorsements.
“Executive branch employees may not use their Government positions to suggest that the agency or any part of the executive branch endorses an organization (including a nonprofit organization), product, service, or person,” the office’s guideline says.
A spokeswoman for Trump defended the post, which, she said, showed “personal support” for the brand, slamming the media and the “cancel culture movement.”
“Ivanka is proud of this strong, Hispanic-owned business with deep roots in the US and has every right to express her personal support,” White House spokeswoman Carolina Hurley said in a statement.
Former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub says yes, “the Goya tweet was an ethics violation.”
Shaub noted in a series of tweets Wednesday that despite the fact that both Trump’s Twitter and Instagram accounts contain disclaimers that they are personal pages, it’s “a bad idea to include your title in the bio because that’s a factor weighing in favor of finding a violation occurred. If, as Ivanka Trump does, you use an otherwise personal social media account to tout official activities of the administration, that’s another factor.”
“If you tout the company’s product in an obvious response to the backlash the company is facing for the CEO’s remarks about your father-president, you knowingly link your account in people’s minds to your official activities; you create the appearance of official sanction,” he added.
The ethics expert concluded that there is a “strong appearance” in this situation that Trump was endorsing the product in her official capacity and she is clearly in violation of the misuse of position regulation.
“It would be hard for Ivanka Trump to argue that her post was in a personal capacity now. As for President Trump, unlike those who work for him, the President is exempted from many of the laws and rules we count on to enforce ethics in government. This administration has proved that to be a mistake,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement.
Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel for CREW, told CNN that the Office of Government Ethics has the authority to oversee complaints about posts like this.
If somebody were to file a complaint about Ivanka Trump’s post, which received swift rebukes from critics on social media, the ethics office would send a letter to the White House’s designated ethics official requesting an investigation and asking them to consider disciplinary actions. The White House counsel’s office would be involved in an investigation, which would ultimately consult with the chief of staff and the President.
The employee “may be imprisoned, fined, demoted, or fired for violating an ethics provision,” but it’s unlikely any of that will happen to Trump, according to the Office of Government Ethics.
Canter said it is “highly unlikely” that the President, her father, will do anything about it, but noted it would be a potentially fireable offense in another administration.
And though this isn’t a Hatch Act violation – the Hatch Act aims to stop the federal government from affecting elections or going about its activities in a partisan manner – Trump’s previous actions on violations could point to how he’d respond if his daughter were found to have broken this rule. So far in the Trump administration, multiple officials have been found to violate the Hatch Act, but the White House has virtually ignored those reports.
“Ms. Trump has had ethics training. She knows better. But she did it anyway because no one in this administration cares about government ethics,” Shaub said, adding that it is also problematic because it “creates the appearance that the government’s endorsement is for sale. Endorse the President and the administration will endorse your product.”
Ivanka Trump’s Goya post came the same day she was publicly lambasted for promoting a new ad campaign called “Find Something New.”
The campaign, which is aimed at helping unemployed Americans find new careers, was criticized for its title, which can be interpreted too simplistic a catchphrase to describe the unemployment meltdown happening for millions of Americans as a global pandemic continues to ravage physical and financial health.
CNN’s David Goldman and Kate Bennett contributed to this report.