Following the departure of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a federal watchdog group is renewing their calls to have Kellyanne Conway fired from the Trump administration.
The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which is not connected to the office of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sent a report to President Trump on Thursday which said Conway “violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
ABC News offers one instance of the alleged violation:
The report released Thursday cites comments Conway made during the Alabama Senate special election in December 2017, which the office found violated the Hatch Act in another report released last year.
Conway, whose formal title is Counselor to the President, commented on the Alabama election in multiple interviews at the time, though the White House defended her comments as reflecting the president’s positions on policy.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks don’t be fooled,” Conway said during one “Fox and Friends” interview. “He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime, weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners. And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he’s not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.”
The report also cites more recent statements to White House reporters in which Conway criticized former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom are seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
In an interview on May 29, Conway reportedly downplayed the law, according to Thursday’s OSC press release, saying she wouldn’t stop making political statements.
“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,” she said, according to the OSC press release.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote in the report that: “Ms. Conway’s disregard for the restrictions the Hatch Act places on executive branch employees is unacceptable.”
“If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her position by the Merit Systems Protection Board,” he continues, via ABC News.
And: “As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions. Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system – the rule of law.”
The White House all but rejected the request to fire Conway when White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves called the OSC’s statement “deeply flawed.”
“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,” Groves continued. “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.”
USA Today reports President Trump later said he would not fire Conway amid the report that she violated the law:
President Donald Trump defended senior aide Kellyanne Conway on Friday from a watchdog report that found she violated a federal law that prohibits political speech in her official capacity, calling her words an expression of “free speech.”
Trump dismissed the recommendation from the Office of Special Counsel that Conway be removed from her job for “egregious, notorious and ongoing” violations of the Hatch Act.
Trump said he was briefed on the report, but would not fire Conway.
“It looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech,” Trump said during an interview on Fox and Friends. “No, I’m not going to fire her. I think she’s a terrific person… I think you’re entitled to free speech in this country.”
ABC News reports:
The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 and aims to ensure that federal programs are administered without partisan bias and to protect federal employees from political pressure. The president and vice president are exempted by the rule. The Merit Systems Protection Board is a judicial agency that adjudicates civil cases involving federal employees. The OSC report says the board has recommended removal of employees in other cases where they engaged in political activity even after being warned it could violate the Hatch Act.