Are Trump's tweets about Nordstrom an abuse of power? | KUOW News and Information

Are Trump's tweets about Nordstrom an abuse of power?

Feb 8, 2017

President Donald Trump called Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom "terrible" on Wednesday for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump's line of clothing. He also tweeted that Nordstrom had treated her "so unfairly."

While Trump's comments raised concerns among ethics experts, they apparently did not damage the retailer's finances: Nordstrom stock rose 4 percent Wednesday while major stock market indices were mostly unchanged.

Trump tweeted his criticism Wednesday morning from the official presidential account, @POTUS, as well as his personal Twitter account, @realdonaldtrump.

Richard Painter, former White House ethics czar under President George W. Bush, told CNBC the attack on Nordstrom was "un-presidential behavior and potentially much worse." 

"It is the use of public office for private gain," he said.

Norm Eisen, ethics czar under President Barack Obama, called Trump's tweet "outrageous."

"It's just the latest in a series of these entanglements. Literally everything he does has this miasma of conflict around it," Eisen told MSNBC.

"I can't say enough how damn wrong it is for the president of the United States to use his office to intimidate a private company," conservative talk show host and former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois tweeted.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump's official tweets on Wednesday afternoon. "He has every right to stand up for his family," Spicer said at a press briefing. "This was less about a family business [than] an attack on his daughter."

It's not the first time Trump has criticized a major Washington state employer out of the blue.

In December, then-President-elect Trump criticized Boeing for charging too much for a redesigned Air Force One now in the works. "Cancel order!" he tweeted. "We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money,” he told reporters at Trump Tower.

But Wednesday's tweets, from his personal and official Twitter accounts, could benefit his family directly if Nordstrom or other retailers shy away from business decisions that might provoke public insults from the president.

"This is something that's totally new for our country," University of Washington political scientist Mark Smith said. "And we should see it as corruption of the highest order."

Ivanka Trump said in January she would step down from her positions with the Trump Organization and with the fashion line that still bears her name. It is unclear whether she or President Trump have divested whatever shares they own in them. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics does not have financial disclosure reports for her or her husband, Jared Kushner, who has been appointed a senior adviser to his father-in-law in the White House. President Trump has long refused to release his tax returns.

Smith called the president tweeting on his daughter's behalf "the definition of nepotism." "This is the way politics works in a lot of countries," Smith said. "People fight for political office; they then use it to benefit themselves and their family members."

"There's a real danger here of politics driving business decisions in a way that benefits Trump's pocket," Smith said. "When you have a political system where the way you make money is to curry political favor, that's horrible for the economy."

"It's going to be up to Congress to make a determination as to when the president has crossed the line," UW political scientist Rebecca Thorpe said. With a Republican-controlled Congress, "that's unlikely unless the president becomes extremely unpopular," she said.

Officials with Nordstrom and the Association of Washington Business declined to comment on Trump's tweets.

In an emailed statement, Nordstrom said it dropped Ivanka Trump's line in January because it was not selling well. "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," the statement reads.

Anti-Trump activists with the #GrabYourWallet campaign claimed victory on Friday when Nordstrom announced it would no longer carry the Ivanka Trump line. Some Trump supporters then called for boycotting the retailer.

While Nordstrom stock dipped momentarily Wednesday morning immediately following the president's tweet mentioning the company, it closed up 4 percent by the end of the day. 

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