On Tuesday, the Office of Special Counsel – no, not the Robert Mueller one – issued a report making clear that White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway had violated the Hatch Act on two occasions in the run-up to the 2017 special Senate election in Alabama.
“She impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election,” concluded Special Counsel Henry Kerner of Conway.
At issue are two interviews Conway gave – one to Fox News, one to CNN – last fall in which she talked about the Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
In the CNN interview, Conway hits Jones for being, among other things, “for tax hikes,” “against border security,” “against national security,” “against the Second Amendment” and “against life.”
The Hatch Act says that with the exception of the president and the vice president, employees of the executive branch cannot engage in any sort of conduct or speech that might be construed as endorsing one party or one candidate over another. According to Kerner, Conway’s statements on Jones – and Moore – crossed that invisible line.
The White House disagreed. “Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said. “She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda.”
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter.
Why? Because the OSC – acronyms! – referred their findings on Conway to President Donald Trump for “consideration of appropriate disciplinary action.”
Which means that nothing is going to happen. Know how I know? Because, history.
Early in the Trump administration, Conway urged viewers during a Fox News interview to “go buy Ivanka Trump stuff.”
Despite a bipartisan letter to the Office of Government Ethics urging further investigation into Conway’s comment, the consequences for Conway’s comment on Ivanka’s fashion line were nonexistent.
The White House said Conway had been “counseled” about the comment. That was it.
And, for her part, Conway would only say that Trump “supports me 100%.”
Here’s the point: This is a totally toothless system. The Office of Special Counsel was created as an independent organization within the federal government. And yet, in this instance in which it has found wrongdoing by a senior member of the President’s White House staff, it can do nothing other than send its findings to Trump for his “consideration of appropriate disciplinary action.”
I mean, come on.
This is far from the only toothless ethics outfit in Washington. The House and Senate ethics committees are legendarily slow-moving and unwilling to strike hard blows against the wrongdoing by their colleagues.
The result of this lack of enforcement muscle: People within Congress and the administration have considerable leeway to do whatever they like without any real fear of penalty.
Human nature + history would suggest that is a recipe for trouble/disaster.