weather icon Clear

Kellyanne Conway will skip Hatch Act hearing

WASHINGTON — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will not testify at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday – a decision made by White House counsel Pat Cipollone even as an ethics czar has called for President Donald Trump to fire Conway.

Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner is expected to testify at the Wednesday hearing that Conway will apparently skip. In a June 13 letter to Trump, Kerner presented a second batch of alleged violations by Conway of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from using their posts for political campaign purposes. Kerner called Conway a “repeat offender,” whose repeated “partisan attacks on several Democratic Party candidates” warrant her removal from federal service.

Unbowed, Conway accused the committee of infringing on her free speech rights. “You know what they’re mad about? They want to put a big roll of masking tape around my mouth because I helped as a campaign manager for the successful part of the campaign,” Conway told Fox News Monday. Conway also dismissed the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed the complaints that prompted Kerner’s scrutiny, as a “left-wing propaganda machine.”

“If she wants to say this is only happening because CREW is whatever, it’s not just us that is saying this,” said CREW spokesman Aaron Rodriguez. He noted that Kerner is a Trump appointee.

Conway’s failure to appear Wednesday likely will prod the committee to subpoena her later in the day.

Remark leads to rebuke

In May, when a reporter asked Conway about two Hatch Act violations cited by Kerner, she responded, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

It was that remark, Kerner offered, that led him to call for Conway to be canned. “Her defiant attitude is inimical to the law, and her continued pattern of misconduct is unacceptable,” the special counsel wrote as he recommended Trump fire Conway immediately.

“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” Kerner maintained.

Cipollone countered that the Special Counsel lacked the authority to punish Conway. Besides, “personal pique appears to have influence the outcome of this investigation, including the decision to make the extraordinary recommendation that the president remove one of his closest advisers.”

“As far as I understand the law, the special counsel does not have the authority to actually fire somebody,” CREW’s Rodriguez noted.

The Office of Special Counsel, which administers the Hatch Act, has no association with special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

What’s allowed?

At the heart of the dispute is what Trump supporters frame as a difference of opinion as to which actions should be considered political activities under the Hatch Act of 1939 and which constitute constitutionally-protected expression.

Oversight Committee member Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted the Kerner probe “was a disaster. The (Office of Special Counsel) selectively applied rules, abused procedure and even violated Kellyanne’s constitutional rights. They should be ashamed. I look forward to questioning them tomorrow.”

George Washintgton University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, however, rejected Cipollone’s argument. It would defeat the purpose of the Hatch Act if White House staff, “who can cause the greatest harm,” were deemed exempt. “One can certainly question the act and its scope but neither Conway nor the White House get to choose what federal law will be followed,” Turley said. “Federal law is not a discretionary choice for federal employees.”

Past administrations tended to defer to the special counsel’s findings, or at least grant them lip service, rather than fight them. When President Barack Obama occupied the Oval Office, the Office of Special Counsel found fault with two of his cabinet members, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

The special counsel found Sebelius “made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity on February 25, 2012.” Afterward, Sebelius reclassified the trip as a political exercise and the Democratic National Committee reimbursed the treasury for the costs.

In 2016, then-Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner found Castro wrongly mixed partisan politics with official duties during an April media interview. Rather than recommend a punishment, Lerner wrote to Obama, “As the upcoming presidential election approaches, this report offers an opportunity to deter violations by reminding federal employees of the Hatch Act’s restrictions.”

“To his credit, Secretary Castro acknowledged the mistake that he made,” then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest told the Washington Examiner. “He owned up to it, and he’s taken the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. That’s the expectation that people have when you make a mistake, particularly in a situation like this.”

Partisan problem

Outgoing press secretary Sarah Sanders often has deferred questions to relevant political committees when members of the press corps ask about pending elections. But Conway flouted such conventions.

“If Ms. Conway wishes to be a political consultant again she should leave the White House and join the reelection campaign, Washington election lawyer Jan Baran said recently. “In the meantime she should consider referring campaign questions to the campaign committee press office. That’s what any other White House official or congressional office routinely does. Government employees are not paid with taxpayer money to do campaign work. The Hatch Act doesn’t permit campaigning while on the government job.”

CREW has filed other complaints that led the special counsel to cite Trump administration figures including Stephanie Grisham, First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman who will succeed Sarah Sanders as press secretary; former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; and White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino. CREW filed a complaint against Grisham because she had included Trump’s campaign slogan #MAGA, for Make America Great Again, on her official White House Twitter account in a post marking her three-year anniversary working for Trump.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
US alleges visa fraud scheme targeting American research

WASHINGTON — A Chinese government employee was arrested Monday after the Justice Department linked him to a visa fraud scheme intended to help others enter the United States to recruit research talent.

More tainted marijuana found in Las Vegas

The Nevada Department of Taxation on Monday issued a health notice after batches of marijuana sold from four Las Vegas dispensaries were found to have fungus, bacteria and high levels of mold and yeast.