The Office of Special Counsel today took the extraordinary step of recommending the removal of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal office for violations of the Hatch Act. That Act bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work and Conway has been repeatedly cited with violations. (For the record, Kellyanne Conway is one of my former students).
The report submitted to President Trump cited Conway’s “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” She is described as a “repeat offender.”
As I have said before, Conway has clearly violated the Act in the past and has shown at times a mocking dismissal of its provisions. However, the Act lacks any real teeth. Conway’s firing would depend on Trump, who is not likely to follow the recommendation.
The Act often leaves a certain ambiguity for aides like Conway who hold political portfolios. Conway is expected to defend the President and his policies. However, she has crossed the line by openly supporting some Republican candidates from the White House. Past advisers have accomplished the same result by stopping short of an outright call to voters.
Conway has been open in her disregard for the federal law and said that some were trying to “silence her” with the Hatch Act. The problem is that this is a federal law and one does not have the discretion to comply or not comply as a federal employee. The OSC stressed “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. Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system—the rule of law.”
For Trump, disregarding such a rare recommendation will further magnify criticism of the ethical standards in the White House. This includes Trump’s disregard of long-standing policies against nepotism in the use of his daughter and son-in-law in key (though unpaid) positions. This recommendation is a rare move by the OSC and shows how serious it considers the underlying conduct to be.