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

A federal watchdog agency on Thursday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE to remove Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayLincoln Project hits Trump over Russian bounties Obama said Trump's use of term 'kung flu' 'shocks and pisses me off': report New Lincoln Project ad slams Trump over deaths of 'Greatest Generation' members from COVID-19 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 CummingsFacial recognition tools under fresh scrutiny amid police protests The sad spectacle of Trump's enablers Democrat Kweisi Mfume wins House primary in Maryland 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 WarrenSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter MORE (D-Mass.) of “lying” about her ethnicity, calling Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Joe Biden must release the results of his cognitive tests — voters need to know GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (D-N.J.) “sexist” and attacking former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Susan Rice: Trump picks Putin over troops 'even when it comes to the blood of American service members' Does Donald Trump even want a second term? 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: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans MORE, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyIf the US wants a better WTO, it should lead the way Bolton book shows nastiness rules at Trump White House George Floyd's brother calls on United Nations to study police brutality in US MORE, White House social media director Dan Scavino and Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive for coronavirus Trump's July 4 weekend comes with COVID-19 backdrop GOP senator blasts Washington officials, claims DC would not be a 'well-rounded working-class state' 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.