The US Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday that White House aide Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on two occasions by “advocating for and against candidates” in last year’s Alabama Senate special election.
In a new report, the OSC special counsel, Henry Kerner, pointed to Conway’s TV interviews conducted in her “official capacity” in November and December of last year. The agency said Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election.”
One of the two interviews was on CNN’s “New Day,” and the second was on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
In a letter to President Donald Trump, Kerner said he is referring her violations for the President’s “consideration of appropriate disciplinary action.”
In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Conway was expressing the President’s position for lawmakers who support the administration’s agenda.
“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” Gidley said. “She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda. In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act – as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamans to vote for the Republican.”
The announcement makes Conway the latest high-profile member of Trump’s team to face official criticism over violating the Hatch Act, a 1939 law prohibiting federal employees from using their official government capacity for partisan ends. Both White House social media director Dan Scavino and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley have received reprimands or warnings from OSC for political statements on their official social media accounts.
During the “Fox & Friends” interview November 20, Conway was introduced by the show’s hosts as a “counselor to President Trump” and spoke from White House grounds. She said about Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones: “Folks, don’t be fooled. He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime, weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners.”
During the “New Day” interview December 6, Conway – again speaking from White House grounds and introduced by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo as “counselor to President Trump” – said among other things that Jones will be a reliable vote “for tax hikes,” “against border security,” “against national security,” “against the Second Amendment” and “against life,” according to the OSC report.
Conway went on to tell Cuomo that Jones is “out of step for Alabama voters, according to the President,” and that Trump “doesn’t want a liberal Democrat representing Alabama in the United States Senate.”
The Office of Special Counsel is unrelated to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and is an independent agency with purview of the Hatch Act.
Conway faced a similar situation last year, when she used a Fox News appearance in February to plug Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. The White House defended Conway at the time and said, “Upon completion of our inquiry, we concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again.”
The Office of Government Ethics – then led by Walter Shaub who has since stepped down and joined the Campaign Legal Center as well as become a CNN contributor – said Conway’s statements were inappropriate and called on the White House to take disciplinary action.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.