WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog agency recommended Thursday that President Donald Trump fire one of his most ardent defenders, counsellor Kellyanne Conway, for repeatedly violating a law that limits political activity by government workers.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, said in a letter to Trump that Conway has been a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.
Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but there are no exceptions for White House employees.
The agency does not have authority to fire Conway, who was appointed counsellor by Trump, so it would be up to the president to follow its recommendation and dismiss one of his most unwavering defenders.
The agency’s letter states: “Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions. Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”
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Conway told reporters who encountered her in the White House press office, “I have no reaction.”
White House spokesman Steven Groves called the agency’s decision “unprecedented” and “deeply flawed” and said it violated Conway’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process.
“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,” Groves said in a statement.
The Office of Special Counsel stated that, during a May 29 media interview, Conway minimized the significance of the law as applied to her.
When asked during the interview about the Hatch Act, Conway replied: “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.”
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In March 2018, the special counsel’s office found that Conway violated the law during two television interviews in which she advocated for and against candidates in the 2017 Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.
Career government officials found to have violated the Hatch Act can be fired, suspended or demoted, and fined up to $1,000.
Conway has been a fiery defender of Trump, doing so during frequent appearances on cable TV news programs and in talks with reporters at the White House. Trump has praised her for her “success” in her career.
Conway is a former pollster who helped Trump win election in 2016 as his campaign manager.
What is the Hatch Act?
The Hatch Act is a 1939 law that limits how federal employees in the executive branch can participate in partisan activity in order to preserve the integrity of public institutions.
One of its provisions prohibits employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election, which includes conducting political activity under official titles.
The OSC said the Hatch Act can be violated through the use of personal or official social media accounts.
With files from Kerri Breen, Global News