by Daniel Chaitin · June 13, 2019
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on “numerous occasions” and should be removed from the government, a United States federal office announced Thursday.
The recommendation was made by Henry Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, in a letter and report sent to President Trump recommending she be removed from federal service.
Federal employees are prohibited by the Hatch Act from using their jobs to campaign for or against political candidates. The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, but employees of the White House are not.
The Office of Special Counsel, led by Kerner, whom Trump nominated to the post, is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act and is not connected to now-former special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Conway, 52, a longtime Republican pollster before joining Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was described as a “repeat offender” by Kerner for disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.
“Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions. Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system—the rule of law,” the letter said.
Kerner’s assessment is a follow-up to a March 2018 report in which the Office of Special Counsel found violations over the course of two TV interviews during which Conway advocated for and against candidates in the 2017 Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.
It noted that Conway “downplayed the significance of the law as applied to her” during a May 29 interview.
When asked about the Hatch Act, she stated, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” and “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
The White House argued the OSC was violating Conway’s free speech rights and suggested the letter was motivated by politics.
“The Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process,” White House spokesman Steven Groves said in a statement. “Others, of all political views, have objected to the OSC’s unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees. Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations — and perhaps OSC should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, non-political manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act.”
Separately, a letter sent to Kerner by White House counsel Pat Cipollone said the OSC report was “based on numerous grave legal, factual, and procedural errors.”
After the letter’s release, Conway was asked by a reporter in the White House to react to it. She pointed to the door and said, “Can you leave, please?” Asked again, Conway said, “I have no reaction. Why would I give you a reaction?“
OSC is an independent agency that “protects federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices,” according to its website.
Conway has served as Trump’s counselor since the inauguration, often appearing for interviews on behalf of the president. Before that the longtime pollster worked as Trump’s campaign manager in the final months of the 2016 campaign.
Specific violations listed by Kerner related to Conway’s comments during interviews about several 2020 Democratic candidates. For instance, she insinuated Sen. Cory Booker was “sexist” and a “tinny” “motivational speaker.” She castigated former Rep. Beto O’Rourke “think[ing] the women running are good enough to be President” and said Sen. Elizabeth Warren was “lying” about her ethnicity and “appropriating somebody else’s heritage.”
Kerner also detailed her comments about “frontrunners” Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she referred to as “two old white straight men career politicians.” She claimed Biden lacked “vision,” said his announcement video was “very dark and spooky,” and criticized his unwillingness to be “held to account for his record.” Conway said Sanders’ ideas were “terrible for America.”
He determined that Conway used her “@KellyannePolls” account on Twitter to perform her official duties, but also engaged in “significant political activity.” This included her retweet of a March 31 message that referred to Biden as “Creepy Uncle Joe.”
Conway removed her White House title from her Twitter bio, leaving her profile blank, in October 2018, after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel for potential violations of the Hatch Act.
Violations of the Hatch Act can result in removal from federal service, a demotion, or a civil penalty up to $1,000.
Washington Examiner · by Daniel Chaitin · June 13, 2019