President Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at Nordstrom for dropping the clothing line of his daughter Ivanka Trump. He tweeted, “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” He then retweeted that on the official account of the President of the United States. Both accounts jointly reach approximately 39 million followers.
So, is it legal for the U.S. President to lash out at a private company for hurting his family’s business, to use public office for private gains? Apparently, yes, but I have a feeling that he might eventually be checked on that just like he recently got checked with his broad immigration ban.
Many people feel it’s “unfair” for the President to use his power for family business. However, the unfair competition laws only cover competing businesses and consumers. Furthermore, plaintiff would have to prove that it was damages by the “unfair” act. Nordstrom appears to not have been immediately damaged; its stock continued to climb after the tweet.
Many critics also feel that Trump’s tweet could have breached ethics rules. Previous presidents have generally avoided mentioning the names of the companies even in the cases where the administration was directly affected (e.g., the banking crisis). But, apparently, Trump has not breached any ethics rules with that tweet because ethics rules currently in effect do not apply to the president. Executive branch employees are forbidden from using their positions to promote any private business corporation, whereas the president is technically exempt. Seems like there is (yet) no rule against the the president disparaging a company.
But even though there are currently no laws or ethics rules that would preclude POTUS from attacking the company for hurting family’s business, Trump might just make such rules created. That’s because his actions are so grand that they often test the limits of what’s legal or not for POTUS to do. We’ve witnessed tat a few days ago with Trump’s immigration ban. Prior to the ban, there was almost no case law that would limit the president’s power to ban immigrants. But Trump’s ban was so broad, that a federal judge blocked it. I believe something similar will eventually happen with Trump using public office for family business purposes.