WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog urged President Donald Trump on Thursday to fire counselor Kellyanne Conway immediately for being a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, most recently by making “disparaging remarks” about Democratic presidential candidates.
The rebuke of the outspoken Conway came in a report by the Office of Special Counsel Henry Kerner. A quick White House response called his findings “unprecedented” and “deeply flawed” and claimed they “violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”
But the report also led Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, to call a June 26 hearing on the Hatch Act, with invitations to the Office of Special Counsel to discuss its findings and to Conway “to answer for her violations.”
Trump, who is responsible for any disciplinary action of Conway, had not commented as of Thursday evening. But he is not expected to follow the special counsel’s recommendation, given White House counsel’s Pat Cipollone’s extensive criticism of the 17-page report.
The report by the Office of Special Counsel — which oversees Hatch Act violations against political activities on the job by federal employees and is not related to former special counsel Robert Mueller -- had harsh words for Conway.
It accused her of a “blatant disregard of the law” and “a pattern of misconduct” that is “unacceptable,” saying she not only ignored the office’s request to comply with the law but “escalated her partisan critiques.”
The report said since Feb. 1, Conway had violated the Hatch Act’s ban on partisan political activity by federal employees both in media appearances and in engaging in both official and political activity on her Twitter account.
The report added that in March last year the office reprimanded Conway for using media appearances twice to promote Trump’s candidate in Alabama’s special Senate election.
“Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends she be removed from office,” the report said.
And the report highlighted her “defiance” by citing a May 29, 2019, Fox News interview in which Conway “reportedly scoffed” at the law and said, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” and “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
The White House released an 11-page letter that Cipollone sent Kerner on Tuesday. The letter rips a draft version of the report the office sent him on May 29. Cipollone accused the office of trying to rush out a report to respond to media questions about Conway’s defiant remarks that day.
Cipollone’s letter said the report is based on fundamental legal and factual errors, makes unfair and unsupported claims, resulted from a blatantly unfair process, has been influenced by “inappropriate considerations” and appears to be politically biased.
The office said it came to its conclusions after investigating allegations against Conway. Among those filing those complaints were Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal group that has targeted several Trump officials, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s executive director, praised the office’s call to fire Conway. He said CREW complaints have resulted in citations for violating the Hatch Act against former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, First Lady spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham and White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino.
Two cabinet officials in Obama administrations also faced reprimands by the Office of Special Counsel: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius in 2012 and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro in 2016.