A US federal watchdog is recommending that Donald Trump fire one of his most ardent and high-profile defenders, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, for repeatedly violating a law that limits political activity by government workers.
Conway should be removed from federal office, the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced on Thursday.
The watchdog agency made its recommendation after concluding that Conway violated a US law, known as the Hatch Act, that bars government employees from engaging in political campaign activity.
In a report addressed to the president, the special counsel’s office identified Conway, long a prominent Trump aide and constantly at his side since he took office while others around him were ousted, as a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act who has “shown disregard for the law”. “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,” the report stated.
“Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system: the rule of law.”
Last month, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) filed a complaint with the special counsel’s office after Conway attacked 2020 Democratic presidential candidates – namely former vice-president Joe Biden – in televised interviews while acting in her official government role.
Although the special counsel’s office acts as a federal investigative and prosecutorial agency and typically has great sway, Conway’s fate is in the hands of Trump, her ultimate boss, and he has often singled her out for praise. Trump has also stood by Conway even as her husband, conservative lawyer George Conway, has disparaged him in a series of scathing opinion articles in national publications and on Twitter – and even called for Trump’s impeachment.
White House spokesman Steven Groves swiftly hit back at the report, stating: “The Office of Special Counsel’s unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”
“Others, of all political views, have objected to the OSC’s unclear and unevenly applied rules, which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees,” he added.
“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.”
The special counsel’s report bears no relation to the work of Robert Mueller, who was specifically appointed in a separate capacity pertaining to the Trump-Russia investigation relating to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The report stated that Conway had run afoul of the Hatch Act on several occasions. In addition to her recent comments about Biden, she sparked similar ethics concerns by advocating for and against candidates in the 2017 Alabama special election.
Conway was also forced to apologize after promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line in a TV interview in the early days of the Trump administration.
The special counsel’s office criticized Conway for not only continuing to disregard the Hatch Act but also downplaying its significance, stating in an interview last month: “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director at Crew, issued a statement on Thursday echoing calls for Conway be dismissed from her role.
“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,” Bookbinder said.