Do Kellyanne Conway's attacks on Joe Biden break the law?

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell explains how Kellyanne Conway may have violated the Hatch Act

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 3, 2019 10:14AM (EDT)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway (AP/Evan Vucci)
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway (AP/Evan Vucci)

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell has accused top White House advisor Kellyanne Conway of breaking the law with her recent statements criticizing former Vice President Joe Biden.

O'Donnell accused Conway of "illegally campaigning against Joe Biden for Donald Trump while holding her position on the federal payroll," according to HuffPost. He argued that Conway's actions violate the Hatch Act, which says that a federal employee cannot use his or her position to try to influence the outcomes of elections.

"She’s breaking the law when she talks about candidate Joe Biden," O'Donnell concluded.

O'Donnell wasn't alone in arriving at the conclusion that Conway's disparagement of Biden was illegal. Richard Painter, a chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, drew the same conclusion in an interview with Newsweek published on Thursday.

"She did it before, she got away with it when she trashed Doug Jones, and goes to the exact same spot trashing Joe Biden," Painter told Newsweek. He later added, "The presumptive punishment is firing. They should have fired her the first time. If President Trump will not remove White House officials who are clearly violating the law, he’s not doing his job and this would be yet another grounds for Congress considering impeaching and removing the president."

After Conway insulted then-candidate Jones in front of the White House on two separate occasions during the special Senate election in Alabama in 2017, the Office of Special Counsel concluded that Conway had broken the law and recommended that the president take disciplinary action against her. Trump instead kept her in her current position.

One of the comments that Conway recently made about Biden was that "oh we must be worried about Biden. Look at what Kellyanne said today, so thanks for the free commercial on all the things Joe Biden didn’t get done for the eight years he was vice president."

On Tuesday Conway told reporters, regarding Biden's opening campaign speech, "you can make a speech, but you don’t have to make sense, apparently," according to Talking Points Memo.

She later added, "Twenty-eight million Americans have no health insurance, none, nine years after Obama and Biden crowed about their health insurance plan. Why is that? Why have the Democrats all moved on from Obamacare into Medicare for All? And in fact, does that include Joe Biden? Is Joe Biden not endorsing Obamacare the way Obama’s not endorsing Joe Biden? I wonder."

During his campaign speech in Pittsburgh on Monday, Biden told the audience that he supports health care reform, although he did not go so far as candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts by supporting Medicare for All.

"Whether you're covered through your employer or on your own or not, you all should have a choice to be able to buy into a public option plan for Medicare… Your choice," Biden told the crowd of supporters. "If the insurance company isn't doing the right thing by you, you should have another choice."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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