Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway for comments on Dem candidates

Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway for comments on Dem candidates
© Greg Nash

Watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleged in a complaint filed on Wednesday that White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayIllinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Trump health chief: Officials actively 'working on' ObamaCare replacement plan Campaign aide: Trump asking questions shared by 'millions of Americans' with Epstein conspiracy theory MORE violated the Hatch Act by commenting on several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Hill Reporter Rafael Bernal: Biden tries to salvage Latino Support Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Top aide Jeff Weaver lays out Sanders's path to victory MORE (I-Vt.).

CREW’s complaint to the Official of the Special Counsel (OSC) alleges Conway, while acting in her official capacity as a government official, expressed her political views about candidates in upcoming partisan elections. 

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The Hatch Act bars federal employees from making partisan remarks that could influence an election while using their official titles. Those found to have violated it can be fined as much as $1,000 and face disciplinary actions such as suspension or termination.

CREW’s complaint lists four television interviews Conway gave in which she allegedly expressed her own personal political views.

CREW noted that Conway was identified by her official title, “Counselor to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE,” during an April 27 interview with CNN when she commented on Biden’s video announcing his primary run.

Conway was asked by CNN host Michael SmerconishMichael SmerconishWatchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway for comments on Dem candidates Davis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Bill O'Reilly debuts new webcast MORE about Trump’s recent comments on the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Conway, unprompted, pivoted to discussing Biden’s presidential campaign announcement video, which also discussed the protests, according to the complaint.

“You want to revisit this the way Joe Biden wants to revisit [this], respectfully, because he doesn’t want to be held to account for his record, or lack thereof,” Conway said. “And I found his announcement video to be unfortunate — certainly a missed opportunity, but also just very dark and spooky in that it’s taking us — he doesn’t have a vision for the future. He doesn’t mention President Obama, the popular president he served for eight years in his video who has refused to endorse him. He doesn’t lay out a vision for the future.”

Smerconish later noted that he had intentionally avoided asking her about Biden during the interview, saying on SiriusXM Radio that Conway delved into talking about Biden on her own.

“I found this really interesting,” Smerconish said of the interview. “Now she pivots to Vice President Biden. I had been told that you really can’t address particular Democratic candidates with Kellyanne Conway because there will be a Hatch Act issue. She’s on the payroll of the White House; she can’t be partisan in her comments. I understand that. I remember it from my days of serving in the Bush, meaning 41, administration.”

Smerconish said he was “a little taken aback” when Conway talked about how “gloomy and creepy and dark” she thought Biden’s campaign video was.

“I just found it very interesting and very defensive that the White House wants to talk more about Joe Biden and the economy than this particular exchange,” Smerconish said.

Conway also commented on Sanders's presidential campaign while standing in front of the White House for an April 24 interview with Fox News, according to the CREW complaint.

“Bernie Sanders has a lot in common with Donald Trump, which is he doesn’t really care what his party thinks about his candidacy at this point in the primaries. He’s connecting directly with the voters, he’s raising small-dollar amounts,” Conway said.

“The only difference between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is Bernie Sanders’s ideas are terrible for America. And Donald Trump is a much better candidate, had connective tissue with the people. So, I think Biden will be seen as the alternative to Bernie Sanders, but he’s got a lot of people in his way,” she continued.

The White House counselor then commented on how “old white male career politicians” like Sanders and Biden “is exactly what the Democratic Party had in mind for 2020 when they’re running all these different folks who are talking about identity politics and what makes them different.”

Conway also made comments about the presidential campaigns of Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonBiden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 2020 Democrats urge Israel to reverse decision banning Omar, Tlaib visit MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report F-bombs away: Why lawmakers are cursing now more than ever MORE (D-N.J.), CREW said.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

This is not the first time that Conway has been accused of violating the Hatch Act.

The Trump official is already under investigation by the OSC for a potential violation regarding several tweets appearing to promote the Republican Party or Trump’s campaign slogan from the Twitter account linked to her job in the administration. 

She was previously found to have violated the Hatch Act on two occasions when she endorsed and advocated against political candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.

“Kellyanne Conway’s repeated violation of federal law, especially in light of the OSC’s prior decision and training is appalling,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a statement. “She shows a dangerous disregard for ethics laws and no understanding that government officials should not use their official positions to advance partisan politics.”