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 ConwayPsaki defends move to oust Trump appointees from military academy boards Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle Conway and Spicer fire back at White House over board resignation requests MORE violated the Hatch Act by commenting on several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis 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 TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 SmerconishSean Penn says COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory 'like turning your headlights on ... at night' CNN's Smerconish lauds Trump on ,000 relief checks: 'Most effective thing he's done' post election Trump attacks former DHS secretary over criticism of federal crackdown 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 BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE. 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 MoultonHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program 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.”