Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to President Trump, violated the Hatch Act on "numerous occasions," according to the Office of Special Counsel.
Particularly, in March 2018, investigators faulted Conway for appearances on Fox News and CNN, during which she discussed the special Alabama House race. The Hatch Act “restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes, including by trying to influence partisan elections,” a previous report stated.
Now the federal watchdog agency is recommending Trump fire the longtime White House employee for being a "repeat offender." It's the first time the group has ever requested the removal of a White House official over Hatch Act violations.
"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. Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law," Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a letter to the president this week.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Kerner the recommendation was "outrageous."
"[It's] 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," Cipollone stated in a letter, which was obtained by Fox News.
Read on for a look at what the Hatch Act regulates.
What is the Hatch Act?
Enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act bars federal employees from participating in political activity while on duty, in the workplace or in an official capacity.
The law also includes some state and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs, according to the OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency
“The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” OSC states.
Does the law cover social media?
Yes. In fact, the agency states that email and social media have made it easier for federal employees to violate the Hatch Act.
While federal employees are allowed to engage in conversations and express opinions on partisan issues or candidates on social media, they are not allowed to do so while on duty or in the workplace. Employees are also not allowed to use their job titles while engaging in such conversations.
Federal employees are also barred from soliciting political contributions at any time – including sharing links to contribution pages for candidates or partisan organizations.
Employees are still subjected to the Hatch Act even when using an alias on social media.
The OSC says a federal employee is allowed to receive partisan political emails and is even allowed to forward such an email to a personal account. But a federal employee is not allowed to send such an email – from a personal or government account – to others while at work.
A partisan political email is defined as “an email that is directed at the success or failure of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race.”
What happens if you violate the Hatch Act?
Someone who violates the Hatch Act could be subjected to a fine up to $1,000. The employee could also face other disciplinary actions, ranging from a reprimand to removal from federal service.
What are some examples of it being violated?
Julian Castro: OSC said Julian Castro, then the housing and urban development secretary under President Barack Obama, violated the Hatch Act when he discussed Hillary Clinton during a 2016 interview with Yahoo News, according to Politico.
“In responding to a journalist's question about the 2016 election, I offered my opinion to the interviewer after making it clear that I was articulating my personal view and not an official position,” Castro said in a statement. “At the time, I believed that this disclaimer was what was required by the Hatch Act. However, your analysis provides that it was not sufficient.”
No punishment was recommended.
USPS: The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) violated federal law after it allowed its employees to participate in union-funded campaign work for various Democratic candidates while on leave from the agency, a 2017 Office of Special Counsel report said.
As Fox News reported, the OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, found that the USPS “engaged in systemic violations” of the Hatch Act – a federal law that limits what political activities federal employees are allowed to engage and participate in.
Federal employees are allowed to participate in some political work while on leave, but the OSC said USPS showed “bias” in favoring the union’s 2016 campaign operation. The report said USPS workers were allowed to do union-funded campaign work for former presidential contender Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates.
The report recommended that USPS management shouldn’t require, direct or suggest local supervisors release union members to engage in political activity in the future.
Kellyanne Conway: Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to President Trump, violated the Hatch Act during two different television appearances, according to the Office of Special Counsel.
The investigators’ report faults Conway for appearances on Fox News and CNN, during which she discussed the 2017 Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.
A summary of an investigation into Conway stated that beginning in February, Conway engaged in a pattern of partisan attacks on Democratic presidential candidates. She called Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey "sexist" and a "tinny" motivational speaker. In another interview, she accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of "lying" about her ethnicity and "appropriating somebody else's heritage." And she attacked former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas for not thinking the women running "are good enough to be president." It also cited her description of former Vice President Joe Biden as lacking "vision."
The summary also noted that she used her Twitter account to conduct political activity. For example, she retweeted a March 31 message that referred to Biden as "Creepy Uncle Joe" and "took it upon herself to outline other faults she found in Mr. Biden's candidacy," the report said.
The White House has maintained Conway’s innocence.
White House spokesman Steven Groves called the agency's decision "unprecedented" and "deeply flawed" and said it violated Conway's constitutional rights to free speech and due process.
"Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations — and perhaps OSC should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, non-political manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act," Groves said in a statement.
Fox News’ Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Jennifer Earl, Jon Decker, Alex Pappas, Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.