Federal watchdog agency tells Trump: Fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act violations

Office of Special Counsel — no, not Bob Mueller! — urges the president to dismiss Conway for repeated offenses

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published June 13, 2019 2:00PM (EDT)

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

The Office of Special Counsel recommended that President Trump fire White House adviser Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act, a law that bars federal employees from engaging in political activities in their official capacity.

The OSC, a federal watchdog agency not to be confused with the now-defunct office of special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, issued a scathing report labeling Conway a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act. 

Special counsel Henry Kerner, who was appointed by Trump, sent a report to the president Thursday detailing numerous apparent violations of the law by Conway. The report follows a previous 2018 report which found that Conway violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews by advocating against Doug Jones in his 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race against Roy Moore. (Jones won that race and will seek re-election to a full term next year.)

Kerner wrote Thursday that Conway’s “disregard for the restrictions of the Hatch Act … is unacceptable.”

“If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her federal position,” he wrote. “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 report goes on to cite multiple media appearances in which Conway made statements “directed at the success of [Trump’s] campaign or at the failure of candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination.”

Kerner wrote that OSC gave Conway “multiple opportunities to come into compliance with the Hatch Act” but Conway “ignored” the requests.

Kerner concluded his letter to Trump by recommending that Conway be fired.

“OSC respectfully requests that Ms. Conway be held to the same standards as all other federal employees, and, as such, you find the removal from federal service to be appropriate disciplinary action,” he wrote.

An OSC spokesperson told ABC News that it was the first time the office had recommended the firing of a White House official.

Not only did Conway repeatedly violate the law, she later mocked the law itself when questioned about her political statements.

“Blah, blah, blah,” she said as one reporter noted the OSC’s previous Hatch Act violation findings in an interview last month.

“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” Conway scoffed. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Even though Kerner is a Trump appointee who previously worked for two former Republican members of Congress, Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the White House issued a statement accusing OSC of violating Conway’s rights and “weaponizing” the law.

Deputy press secretary Steven Groves said the report’s recommendations are “deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”

“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,” the statement said. “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, nonpolitical manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act.”

Conway declined to comment when asked to react to the report by CNBC’s Eamon Javers.

“Can you leave, please?” she told him. “I have no reaction. Why would I give you a reaction?“

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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