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

A federal watchdog agency on Thursday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE to remove Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayConway and Haley get into heated feud: 'You'll say anything to get the vice-presidential nomination' NBC signs Mueller 'pit bull' prosecutor Andrew Weissman as legal analyst George Conway and Trump Jr. trade personal insults during impeachment hearing 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 MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' 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 CummingsStopgap government funding measure includes census money, military pay raise Maya Rockeymoore Cummings reports surgery was a success, will return to campaign trail The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today 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 WarrenRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (D-Mass.) of “lying” about her ethnicity, calling Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerJayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' Poll: Biden holds 20-point lead in South Carolina Fox News anchor apologizes for saying Booker dropped out of 2020 race MORE (D-N.J.) “sexist” and attacking former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Democrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage 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: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyConway and Haley get into heated feud: 'You'll say anything to get the vice-presidential nomination' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Former Ukraine envoy offers dramatic testimony Nikki Haley: 'We should always protect whistleblowers' MORE, White House social media director Dan Scavino and Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family Trump to attend NATO leaders meeting 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.