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Federal Watchdog Agency Recommends Kellyanne Conway Be Fired

Kellyanne Conway speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Kellyanne Conway speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. February 2018. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Kellyanne Conway violates Hatch Act again, and U.S. Office of Special Counsel wants her fired.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency unrelated to Robert Mueller, recommended on Thursday that President Trump fire his counselor Kellyanne Conway for violations of the Hatch Act, an ethics law restricting partisan politics from federal employees.

Conway is not the first Trump administration employee to be reprimanded over the Hatch Act; six White House staffers were notified they were in violation of the law in 2018. However, other staffers were merely warned further violations could result in disciplinary action, while the clear recommendation to fire Conway is unprecedented.

The Hatch Act bars employees from participating in campaign politics during their time at work to prevent the federal government from exercising influence on elections. Other alleged violators of the rule had minor offenses like tweeting #MAGA with Twitter accounts delegated for official duties, but the U.S. Office of Special Counsel described Conway’s breaches, such as frequently disparaging Democratic presidential candidates, as more severe.

“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,” wrote Henry J. Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, in a letter to President Trump.

When asked about Hatch Act violations a few weeks ago, Conway told a reporter, “Blah, blah, blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.” The White House responded with an 11-page memo rejecting Mr. Kerner’s conclusion.

“OSC’s overbroad and unsupported interpretation of the Hatch Act risks violating Ms. Conway’s First Amendment rights and chills the free speech of all government employees,” said the White House response.

The 1939 Hatch Act has been used against other presidential administrations, but its frequent employment during the Trump era illustrates the abnormal circumstances of the current administration. While many outside observers praised Kerner’s decision, critics believe it is unrealistic to hold clearly partisan operatives to such a high standard.

The Los Angeles Times’ Michael McGough argued that while Conway’s negative statements about Democrats may match the description of the Hatch Act, it is “surreal to fault a political player for making political statements.”

“Perhaps the Hatch Act should be amended to recognize explicitly that a president is entitled to one or two people on his official payroll who can openly engage in an activity they are probably pursuing covertly: working for the president’s reelection. Then there wouldn’t be a problem with rank-and-file employees thinking that they could violate the law,” wrote McGough.

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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