Ivanka Trump backs Goya: By endorsing black beans she possibly violates ethics rule

Ivanka Trump, the daughter and senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, is interviewed by the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

White House adviser and president’s daughter Ivanka Trump may have violated the government’s ethics rule when she posted a photo of herself with a can of black beans on Tuesday night.

“If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” she captioned a photograph of canned frigelles in the Vanna White style, adding in translation “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”

The post came in response to brand boycotting and social media outrage from consumers and some Latin American leaders after the company’s CEO Robert Unanue praised President Donald Trump at an event in the Rose Garden 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 echoed his remarks in an interview Friday, telling Fox News that he was “not apologizing” and called the ensuing boycott movement “suppression of speech.”

Later Wednesday, the president continued his brand promotion efforts by posting a photo of himself alongside a variety of Goya products. Trump posed, thumbs-down, in front of the beans, condiments, coconut milk, and chocolate waffles set on the historic Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Goya is the largest Latin American company in the country and is a privately held business. It remains unclear how the boycott calls have impacted business, but the president said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that Goya is “doing GREAT.”

“The Radical Left smear machine backfired, people are buying like crazy!” Trump tweeted.

But his daughter and a West Wing adviser could have violated federal ethics rule with their message. The US Office of Government Ethics, which aims to “prevent conflicts of interest in the executive branch,” has guidelines for approval.

“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 Trump spokeswoman defended the post, which she said showed “personal support” for the brand by criticizing 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 on Wednesday that despite the fact that Trump’s Twitter and Instagram accounts contain disclaimers for being personal, 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 your personal social media account to advertise the 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 ethicist concluded that in this situation there is a “strong impression” that Trump is supporting the product in his official capacity, and it is clearly violating an abuse of position.

“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, control group communications director 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 anyone filed a complaint against Ivanka Trump’s position, which received quick rebukes from critics on social media, the ethics office would send a letter to the designated White House ethics official asking for an investigation and asking him to consider disciplinary action. The White House law firm will participate in the investigation, which will eventually consult with the chief of staff and the president.

An employee “could be jailed, fined, demoted or fired for ethical violations,” but none of this is likely to happen to Trump, according to the Office of Government Ethics.

Canter said it was “highly unlikely” that the president, her father, would do anything about it, but noted that it could be a potentially dangerous crime in another administration.

While this is not a violation of the Hatch Act – the Hatch Act aims to prevent the federal government from influencing elections or conducting its business in an impartial manner – Trump’s previous actions on violations could indicate how he would react if his daughter was found to have violated this rule is. So far, the Trump administration has found several officials violating the Hatch Act, but the White House has effectively ignored these 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.”

Ivana Trump’s message about Goya came the same day she publicly criticized for promoting a new ad campaign called “Find Something New.”

The campaign, aimed at helping unemployed Americans find new careers, has been criticized for its name, which could be interpreted too simplistically to describe the unemployment crisis happening to millions of Americans as the global pandemic continues to devastate physical and financial health.

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