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 ConwayOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 White House adopts confident tone after Pelosi signals go on impeachment Conway: Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping issue MORE violated the Hatch Act by commenting on several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHow can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally 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 TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades 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 SmerconishMatt Gaetz to Kellyanne Conway over marijuana legalization: 'OK, boomer' Mark Halperin's 'How to Beat Trump' book sells 502 copies in first week Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway for comments on Dem candidates 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 MoultonDeval Patrick beefs up campaign staff Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Pardoning war crimes dishonors the military MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race 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.”