Trump Assails Nordstrom for ‘Unfairly’ Dropping His Daughter Ivanka’s Line
FEB. 8, 2017
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and RACHEL ABRAMS
WASHINGTON — President Trump lashed out on Wednesday at the Nordstrom department store chain for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s accessories and clothing line, once again raising ethical questions about the relationship between his presidency and his family’s sprawling business interests.
Mr. Trump has already broken with tradition by singling out companies for criticism, like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, automakers and news organizations, sometimes causing gyrations in their stock prices and prompting debates about whether corporations would tailor their conduct to suit a bellicose president. But in those cases, his ire targeted government contracts, departing American jobs or news coverage — not his own family’s personal fortunes.
Six days after Nordstrom announced that, based on sales, it would no longer carry Ms. Trump’s products — a decision that prompted some Trump supporters to call for a boycott of the stores — the president took to Twitter to complain that “Ivanka has been treated so unfairly” by the company. He first posted the message from his personal account, and then re-sent it from his official White House account.
Mr. Trump’s complaint also raised questions about how he might handle the moves of numerous other companies as their relationships with Trump brands change. The large national discount retailers T. J. Maxx and Marshalls, and Neiman Marcus, the luxury department store, for example, have recently taken steps to give less prominence to Ms. Trump’s products.
Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, said the president’s tweet was not about business but about “an attack on his daughter.”
“For people to take out their concern about his actions, or his executive orders, on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family,” Mr. Spicer said.
It was not clear if Mr. Spicer was referring to critics of Mr. Trump who have called for a boycott of businesses bearing the family name, or to some political motive by Nordstrom. After the president temporarily barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, Nordstrom sent its employees a statement saying that it valued immigrants and offered support to those affected by the executive order.
On Wednesday, responding to Mr. Spicer’s comments, Nordstrom maintained that it had pulled Ms. Trump’s products based on their declining sales performance. The company said it informed Ms. Trump of its decision in early January.
“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 Nordstrom statement said. “We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team.”
As Mr. Trump has noted several times, the president is exempt from conflict of interest provisions in federal law that prohibit other government officials from using their positions to benefit themselves or their family members financially. So even if his post was meant to intimidate Nordstrom or other retailers that still work with Ivanka Trump, it probably does not violate conflict of interest rules, said ethics experts, who nonetheless called it inappropriate.
“It is a total misuse of presidential power,” said Lawrence M. Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center and formerly the top lawyer at the Federal Election Commission. “He is really bringing to bear the whole weight of the office of president on a business decision. Take another company that is considering whether or not to drop her line — they obviously are going to ask themselves if they want to be attacked by the president.”
Mr. Trump’s blast at Nordstrom came two days after his wife, Melania, filed a libel lawsuit that described her “multiyear term” as “one of the most photographed women in the world” — an apparent reference to her status as a candidate’s wife and now first lady — as a lucrative business opportunity. And Mr. Spicer, the White House spokesman, has urged people to visit the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which opened late last year.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a group that promotes ethics in government, said Mr. Trump’s swipe at Nordstrom was not a major issue in itself. But Mr. Weissman said it demonstrates that as president, Mr. Trump continues to have multiple conflicts of interestwith his own and his family’s business interests. Mr. Trump refuses to sell his assets or put them into a blind trust, but he has said that he has ceded operation of his businesses to his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
“He has committed to severing himself from the family business operations,” Mr. Weissman said. “That is obviously not the case.”
Ivanka Trump has no formal role in the administration, but her father has included her in meetings with foreign officials and business leaders, and her husband, Jared Kushner, is an adviser to the president. After years as a business executive, Ms. Trump has suddenly found herself without a clear path to walk as she adjusts to life in Washington.
Jake Naughton for The New York Times
She has expressed frustration to a number of associates with Nordstrom’s decision, describing it as a political move and maintaining that the sales of her brand had not sagged. While she is no longer involved in the management of her business, she is said to be acutely aware of the controversies surrounding her product line.
The Trump presidency is forcing retailers to rethink their relationships with Trump product lines, weighing how well they sell and what actions will anger or placate the largest number of customers. After Nordstrom said it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s merchandise, Trump supporters on social media began calling for a boycott of the stores.
Last week, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores sent a note to employees — a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times — telling them to throw away signs for Ivanka Trump products.
“Effective immediately, please remove all Ivanka Trump merchandise from features and mix into” the racks where most products hang, the note read. “All Ivanka Trump signs should be discarded.”
The instruction was to eliminate special displays for the merchandise, “not to remove it from the sales floor,” said Doreen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the TJX Companies, the retailers’ parent corporation.
“We offer a rapidly changing selection of merchandise for our customers, and brands are featured based on a number of factors,” she said.
Ms. Thompson did not respond directly to questions about whether instructing stores to discard signs was unusual. But an employee at one of the company’s stores, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said she had not received such a request during her several years working there.
Neiman Marcus recently stopped selling Ms. Trump’s jewelry and accessories through its website, but her clothes are still sold at Macy’s, the nation’s largest department store chain, as well as its sister company Bloomingdale’s, where her shoes and handbags are available online. In August, Bloomingdale’s committed to selling her clothes in seven of its stores, according to a spokeswoman, Anne Keating.
“I think they all have probably been looking closely at Ivanka’s sales numbers and weighing whether they’re worth all the problems she’s brought them,” said Shannon Coulter, who helped found #GrabYourWallet, an online campaign to boycott Trump products.