Federal watchdog recommends Conway be removed from role for Hatch Act violations

A federal watchdog agency on Thursday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE to remove Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKellyanne Conway says she meant 'no disrespect' with question about reporter's ethnicity Kellyanne Conway asks reporter 'what's your ethnicity' while defending Trump's 'go back' comments about minority lawmakers Conway: Progressive congresswomen represent 'dark underbelly in this country' MORE as White House counselor over repeated violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in elections in their official capacity.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent a 17-page report to Trump accusing Conway of breaking the law on numerous occasions “by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media” and calling on the president to oust her “immediately.”

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“As a highly visible member of the administration, 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,” special counsel Henry Kerner wrote to Trump. “Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

The White House immediately rejected the office’s recommendation that Conway be fired, saying its findings are “deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.” Trump has no plans to follow the recommendation or discipline Conway in any way, according to an administration official.

Under the law, the decision to remove Conway is up to Trump and not the OSC.

The independent agency, which is unrelated to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE of the Russia investigation, has never recommended that the White House fire an employee over Hatch Act violations. It said it did so with Conway because she is a “repeat offender” who has ignored the office’s requests to follow the law.

The unprecedented recommendation fueled House Democrats, who have launched wide-ranging investigations into the president’s administration. House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens House poised to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer MORE (D-Md.) announced Thursday he would hold a June 26 hearing with the OSC on its findings, at which Conway will be invited to testify.

White House spokesman Steven Groves accused the office of making a politically motivated decision to target Conway.

“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,” he said in a statement. 

Kerner, a former investigator for congressional Republicans, was nominated by Trump to lead OSC. He began his job in October 2017 after the GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him by voice vote.

His agency found that Conway violated the law during more than half a dozen interviews with Fox News and CNN between February and May 2019, including by accusing Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Mass.) of “lying” about her ethnicity, calling Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations MORE (D-N.J.) “sexist” and attacking former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Sanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE’s “vision” as well as his “very dark and spooky” campaign announcement video.

All three are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

It also said Conway misused her @KellyannePolls Twitter account for political purposes by stating her support for Trump’s reelection campaign, tweeting “#2020:I’mWithHim,” as well as bashing Booker for sounding “like a Hallmark card” and dubbing Biden “Creepy Uncle Joe.”

The report cited “numerous aggravating factors” in the decision to call for Conway’s firing, including its March 2018 finding that she violated the Hatch Act by weighing in on the 2017 Alabama Senate race but failed to rectify her behavior.

It said OSC sent a letter to Conway in December 2018 warning her about her use of Twitter and met with the White House counsel’s office twice in March “about her political activity during official media appearances,” then again in April about her Twitter account.

Conway scoffed when asked on May 29 about her Hatch Act violations, telling reporters at the White House to “let me know when the jail sentence starts,” comments which the OSC pointed to in justifying its move.

“Her defiant attitude is inimical to the law, and her continued pattern of misconduct is unacceptable,” the reports reads.

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White House counsel Pat Cipollone responded to the OSC in an 11-page letter blasting its findings, arguing Conway’s media appearances and tweets are not covered by the law and accusing the office of violating her due-process rights by giving the White House inadequate notice to respond to its specific findings.

“The report is based on numerous grave legal, factual, and procedural errors,” the letter reads. “As a result, the current report would serve only to undermine public confidence in OSC and its procedures.” 

The Hatch Act, which was passed in 1939, bars the vast majority of federal employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1947 and 1973.

Conway is not the only White House official to find themselves in the OSC’s crosshairs. Late last year, the office found that six administration figures violated the law by tweeting  political messages that were supportive of Trump.

The officials include former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Trump officials gut DC staff as public lands agency preps to move out West Bureau of Land Management to move headquarters from DC to Colorado MORE, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyAmerican women can have it all State denies report ex-spokeswoman received Fox salary while in administration Trump rules out Haley joining 2020 ticket MORE, White House social media director Dan Scavino and Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpCruz in 2016 said 'something fundamentally wrong' with Christians who back Trump: book Designer defends Melania Trump statue: 'People may laugh but the context still resonates' Melania Trump heading to West Virginia to discuss opioid epidemic MORE.

The latest ruling against Conway originated from two complaints made by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has consistently criticized the president and Trump administration’s conduct.

“Conway’s repeated violations and publicly expressed disdain for the law show a dangerous disregard for governmental ethics, the rule of law and the long-held understanding that government officials should not use their official positions to advance partisan politics,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “We join OSC in calling for Kellyanne Conway to be removed from federal service.”

—Updated at 3:27 p.m.