White House blasts Hatch Act attack on Kellyanne Conway as politically motivated
The government’s chief political watchdog said Thursday that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway has repeatedly violated the Hatch Act by mixing politics with official government business, and told President Trump to fire her.
Special counsel Henry J. Kerner, who polices federal employees’ politicking, said Mrs. Conway’s “disregard” for the law is palpable and wouldn’t be tolerated from any regular federal employee, but because Mrs. Conway is a presidential appointee at the White House, it’s up to Mr. Trump to discipline her.
“Never has [the Office of Special Counsel] had to issue multiple reports to the president concerning Hatch Act violations by the same individual,” he wrote. “OSC respectfully requests that Mrs. Conway be held to the same standards as all other federal employees and, as such, you find removal from federal service to be the appropriate disciplinary action.”
On her Twitter account and her frequent appearances on television from the White House lawn, he said, Mrs. Conway makes a regular practice of politicking while on government time. He said it’s the worst case the Office of Special Counsel has ever seen for a senior presidential adviser.
An indignant White House fired back by accusing Mr. Kerner of political bias and selective outrage.
The White House released a lengthy letter its top attorney wrote this week begging Mr. Kerner to delay release of the report and complaining that he violated his own rules in rushing to ding Mrs. Conway.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone said the OSC’s work was riddled with errors and seemed to be the product of a personal grudge. Mrs. Conway publicly thumbed her nose at the Hatch Act last month by daring the government to jail her.
“Personal pique appears to have influenced the outcome of this investigation,” Mr. Cipollone wrote. He called the request for a president to fire a close adviser extraordinary.
White House spokesman Steven Groves said in a statement that Mrs. Conway’s forays into politics are protected by the First Amendment, and he called the special counsel’s report “deeply flawed.”
“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,” Mr. Groves said.
Mrs. Conway told reporters at the White House, “I have no reaction.”
The Office of Special Counsel is not the same as the Justice Department special counsel. It’s a separate agency responsible for policing the Hatch Act, the law that prohibits government employees from politicking while on government time.
Mr. Kerner issued a 17-page report detailing Mrs. Conway’s violations and pointing to her seeming indifference to the law.
“Let me know when the jail sentence starts,” she told reporters last month when asked about mixing politics with her government job.
Mr. Kerner said Mrs. Conway’s Twitter account regularly mixes the two roles and that her frequent talks with reporters at the White House show “a pattern of partisan attacks” on the Democratic presidential candidates.
“Ms. Conway’s advocacy against the Democratic candidates and open endorsement of the president’s reelection effort during both official media appearances and on her Twitter account constitute prohibited political activity under the Hatch Act,” he wrote.
Mr. Cipollone said in his letter to the OSC this week that there aren’t binding rules on how social media accounts can be used. He said the office’s approach to Mrs. Conway’s Twitter account, which she had before joining the White House, strikes at free speech.
He also said it’s unreasonable to treat every comment a White House adviser makes on a presidential candidate as a violation of rules. When Mrs. Conway was referring to them, he said, she was generally talking about their policies.
Mr. Kerner, though, said there were “numerous aggravating factors” against Mrs. Conway, including repeated warnings she has ignored.
A 2018 report first dinged Mrs. Conway for television appearances in which she took a stand on the 2017 Alabama special election for a Senate seat.
Mrs. Conway, a Republican Party strategist and pollster before joining the White House, now serves as “counselor to the president.”
Mr. Kerner said his office has investigated senior officials from both parties but Mrs. Conway’s case is the worst.
Past violators included Julian Castro, now a 2020 presidential candidate who in 2016 was an Obama Cabinet secretary. He was dinged for talking with a reporter about his chances of being picked as a vice presidential nominee.
He insisted that his answer was in his personal capacity, but the OSC said he politicked on government time.
Unlike Mrs. Conway, Mr. Castro was contrite. He said he thought he was complying with the law but accepted the adverse conclusion.
OSC also dinged then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in 2012 when she called in a speech for President Obama to be reelected.
OSC has also cited the White House run by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as illegally mixing politics with government business.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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