White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on two occasions, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump administration Tuesday.
Appearing in her official capacity, Conway endorsed and advocated against political candidates, the watchdog said, referring its findings to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.”
The violations occurred during two television appearances in 2017, one on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” and one on CNN’s “New Day.”
“While the Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, it restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes, including by trying to influence partisan elections,” OSC says in its report.
“Ms. Conway’s statements during the ‘Fox & Friends’ and ‘New Day’ interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”
The report goes on to state that Conway received “significant training” on the Hatch Act and possible violations. OSC says it gave Conway, a former GOP pollster who served as Trump’s campaign manager, the opportunity to respond as part of its report, but she did not.
The White House rejected the report’s findings, saying “Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate” in a statement provided to reporters.
“In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act — as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamans to vote for the Republican,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gildley said.
Ahead of December’s special election to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate, Conway made remarks critical of then-candidate Doug Jones in his race against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
During her initial Fox appearance, Conway blasted Jones as “weak on crime” and “weak on borders,” before declining to specifically endorse Moore when asked.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners,” Conway said in November.
“So, vote Roy Moore?” host Brian Kilmeade interjected.
“I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” Conway responded.
In her CNN appearance in December, Conway went further, saying that Trump “doesn’t want a liberal Democrat representing Alabama” in the Senate.
“The only endorsement that matters in this race is President Trump’s,” Conway said the week before the vote. “And he came out questioning the ideology and the vote of Doug Jones. He’ll be a reliable vote for tax hikes. He’ll be a reliable vote against border security. He’ll be a reliable vote against national security and keeping [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS in retreat. He’ll be the reliable vote against the Second Amendment and against life.”
At the time, former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub called the comments a “slam dunk” violation of the Hatch Act.
“The willfulness of Conway’s violation and her openly expressed disdain for efforts to hold her accountable for complying with ethics requirements make clear that anything less than removal from the federal service or a lengthy unpaid suspension will not deter future misconduct on her part,” Shaub said.
Shaub filed two complaints with OSC over the interviews.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah defended Conway last year after initial criticism.
“Ms. Conway did not advocate for or against the election of a candidate, and specifically declined to encourage Alabamans to vote a certain way,” Shah said in a statement.
“She was speaking about issues and her support for the president’s agenda. This election is for the people of Alabama to decide,” he added.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md.) demanded the president issue “swift and serious” punishment for the violations.
“The President must take swift and serious disciplinary action against Ms. Conway. Anything else sets a terrible example,” Cummings said in a statement.
Hatch Act violations committed by White House staff are typically handled directly by the president. Consequences for violating the law range from an official reprimand to a civil penalty of up to $1,000. Other penalties include suspension, termination or even debarment from federal employment for up to five years.