One of President Trump’s top advisors Kellyanne Conway appears to have violated a federal law, not once but twice. Veuer’s Sam Berman has the full story.
WASHINGTON – A federal watchdog agency recommended Thursday that Kellyanne Conway, a senior aide to President Donald Trump, be removed from office after repeatedly violating a federal law that prohibits political speech in her official capacity.
Conway, a counselor to the president, is a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act for disparaging Democratic presidential candidates and for two television interviews in which she spoke for and against Alabama candidates for U.S. Senate in 2017, according to the Office of Special Counsel. The report described her offenses as “egregious, notorious and ongoing.”
Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a letter Thursday to Trump that his office had investigated aides to presidents of both parties and never before found repeated violations by the same person.
“Ms. Conway’s disregard for the restrictions the Hatch Act places on executive branch employees is unacceptable,” Kerner wrote. “Ms. Conway’s actions and statements stand in stark contrast to the culture of compliance promised by your White House counsel and undermine your efforts to create and enforce such a culture.”
Steven Groves, a White House deputy press secretary, immediately hit back, accusing the agency of “flawed” reasoning. Groves said the law cited by the Office of Special Counsel is unclear and applied unevenly.
“The Office of Special Counsel’s unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process,” Groves said.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone replied to Kerner with an 11-page letter that said the report “was the product of a fatally flawed process.” Cipollone said Conway wasn’t given a reasonable opportunity to respond to complaints, and her proposed removal risked violating Conway’s First Amendment rights and could chill free speech for all federal workers.
“Indeed the report is based on numerous grave legal, factual and procedural errors,” Cipollone said. “OSC’s overreaching recommendation is wholly unsupported by any statute or the Constitution.”
Cipollone asked for more information by June 26 about how Kerner compiled the report so the White House could provide a formal response.
The report cited Conway’s statements beginning in February in which she disparaged Democratic presidential candidates. She called Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., “sexist” and a “tinny” motivational speaker. Conway also said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was “lying” about her ethnicity and “appropriating somebody else’s heritage.” Of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Conway suggested he didn’t think “women running are good enough to be president.”
In an interview on “Fox and Friends” on Feb. 11, Conway said Trump had the “presidential timber” to be reelected, while Democrats were “a bunch of presidential woodchips.” She then described several of the candidates, calling Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as “a very nice person, I guess unless you’re on her staff” and questioning the credibility of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York eating chicken “apparently for the first time” in her 50s.
Kerner’s office had reported in March 2018 that Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views” when she gave television interviews on CNN and Fox late in 2017, taking sides in Alabama’s special election for the Senate.
The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints but doesn’t prosecute cases itself. The agency is not connected to Robert Mueller, the former Justice Department special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Since Conway is a presidential appointee, Trump would have to decide on any discipline.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement he planned to hold a hearing on June 26 with the Office of Special Counsel on the report about Conway.
Cummings said his committee has had “multiple concerns” of its own about Conway and accused her of “brazenly flouting the Hatch Act.”
The agency’s investigation of Conway followed two complaints from the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Executive Director Noah Bookbinder joined Kerner in saying Conway should be removed from office to demonstrate the offenses won’t be taken lightly.
“Conway’s repeated violations and publicly expressed disdain for the law show a dangerous disregard for governmental ethics, the rule of law and the long-held understanding that government officials should not use their official positions to advance partisan politics,” Bookbinder said.
In an interview May 29, 2019, Conway played down the significance of the law by saying, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work.”
“Let me know when the jail sentence starts,” Conway said at the time.
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But the Office of Special Counsel said her violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act.
“Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system – the rule of law,” Kerner said in his letter.
Shortly after the report was released, Conway was in a White House meeting with Trump and a handful of governors. Trump did not respond to reporters’ questions about the report.
More about Kellyanne Conway and the Hatch Act:
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