A new report by a federal government watchdog issued Thursday determined that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act — which limits political activities of federal employees — on “numerous occasions” by repeatedly blasting Democratic presidential candidates. For the violations, the watchdog recommended that Conway be removed. But in an interview with “Fox & Friends” Friday, Trump made clear that’s not going to happen.
“I’m not gonna fire her. I think she’s a terrific person. She’s a tremendous spokesperson,” Trump told the hosts, in comments reported by Fox News.com. Trump went on to criticize the Office of Special Counsel — an independent office tasked with government oversight (unrelated to the Robert Mueller investigation) — with “trying to take away her right of free speech” and suggesting that he wouldn’t ask her to dial back her rhetoric, saying he believes government employees should be allowed “to express themselves.”
On Thursday, the Office of Special Counsel Henry Kerner issued a letter recommending the dismissal of Conway, citing “numerous violations of the Hatch Act.”
“Attached to this letter is a copy of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) investigative report detailing numerous violations of the Hatch Act by Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway,” the letter reads. “Ms. Conway’s disregard for the restrictions the Hatch Act places on executive branch employees is unacceptable. If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations would almost certainly result in removal from her federal position by the Merit Systems Protection Board. As a highly visible member of the Administration, 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.”
The accompanying report goes on to cite examples of Conway ripping Trump’s potential political opponents.
In response, White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves argued that the Special Counsel “violate[d] her constitutional rights to free speech and due process,” CNN reports. “Others, of all political views, have objected to the (the office’s) unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees. Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations — and perhaps (the Office of the Special Counsel) should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, non-political manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act,” he said.
Counsel to the President Pat Cipollone also responded to Kerner’s recommendation, which he blasted in a letter as “a product of a fatally flawed process.”
“I write to submit an initial response to the draft Office of Special Counsel report concerning Assistant to the President and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway…,” the letter reads. “The OSC’s draft Report is based on multiple fundamental legal and factual errors, makes unfair and unsupported claims against a close adviser to the President, is the product of a blatantly unfair process that ignored statutory notice requirements, and has been influenced by various inappropriate considerations. As a result, the current Report would serve only to undermine public confidence in OSC and its procedures. At 5:00 pm on May 29, 2019, OSC provided the White House with a 17-page report raising numerous unsubstantiated allegations spanning many months, many of which had never been raised by OSC through the appropriate procedure. OSC then demanded a response by 9:00 a.m. the following morning. As you later acknowledged, OSC’s actions were prompted by your desire to respond to press questions concerning a media report that day about comments that Ms. Conway had allegedly made and by the purported personal ‘offense’ that you took to those comments even though you made no effort to investigate before rushing to judgment. OSC’s patently unreasonable demand for an overnight response, standing alone, shows that the Report was the product of a fatally flawed process.”