On Thursday the Office of Special Counsel, which isn’t affiliated with former special counsel Robert Mueller and his collusion investigation, issued a stunning, first-of-its-kind report calling for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to be terminated for alleged violations of the Hatch Act.
According to Politico, never before in the office’s 40-year history has it ever called for a White House official to be terminated.
“The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today sent report to President Donald J. Trump finding that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media,” a statement from the OSC reads.
— Alex Mallin (@alex_mallin) June 13, 2019
The OSC first targeted Conway in early 2018, when it referred her to the president for two alleged violations of the Hatch Act as per statements she’d made on FNC’s “Fox & Friends” and CNN’s “New Day” in 2017 about the then-upcoming special election in Alabama.
While she did speak positively about Republican candidate Roy Moore and disparagingly about his Democrat challenger, Doug Jones, the White House insisted at the time that she’d merely been echoing the president’s positions. Note for instance what she said on “Fox & Friends.”
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks don’t be fooled,” she said. “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. And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he’s not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.”
Was this wrong to say?
When Trump’s transition team announced in late December of 2016 that Conway had been tapped to serve as his counselor, it noted that in her position she’d “continue her role as a close adviser to the President and will work with senior leadership to effectively message and execute the Administration’s legislative priorities and actions.”
The inclusion of the term “message” suggests that one of her roles as counselor is to convey the president’s opinion on policies, elections, etc. And that, it would appear, was exactly what she’d been doing vis-a-vis the special election in Alabama.
When confronted by various media reporters last month about these alleged violations, the White House counselor disputed them, saying, “You’ve got outside groups who have political agendas trying to file actions against me,” and accusing said groups of trying to silence her. She also made a sarcastic remark about a “jail sentence.”
The OSC cited these remarks in its statement Thursday.
“[D]uring a media interview on May 29, 2019, Ms. Conway downplayed the significance of the law as applied to her,” the statement reads. “When asked about the Hatch Act, she stated, ‘If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,’ and ‘Let me know when the jail sentence starts.'”
It’s unclear if this means that sarcastic remarks also count as violations of the Hatch Act …
The White House has for its part responded to the OSC’s stunning accusations by accusing the agency of trying to violate the White House counselor’s free speech rights.
And the White House hits back: “The Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.” pic.twitter.com/FLGN6dD0h4
— Sara Cook (@saraecook) June 13, 2019
“The Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Steven Groves said in a statement.
“Others, of all political views, have objected to the OSC’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 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.”
The evidence suggests he’s correct. Flashback to 2016, when the OSC found then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro guilty of having violated the Hatch Act during a Yahoo interview.
“Secretary Castro’s statements during the interview impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official agency business despite his efforts to clarify that some answers were being given in his personal capacity,” that report read.
“It is very clear that [Democrat presidential candidate] Hillary Clinton is the most experienced, thoughtful, and prepared candidate for President that we have this year,” he’d said.
But instead of recommending Castro’s termination, the OSC sent a report to then-President Barack Hussein Obama without a recommendation. Obama then chose to take no action, according to Law & Crime.
“The Office of Special Counsel found that there was absolutely no question that this was a blatant violation of the Hatch Act. The agency forwarded the full report to President Obama, who chose not to take action,” the legal blog noted at the time.
“He owned up to it, and he’s taken the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. I think that’s the expectation that people have when you make a mistake, particularly in a situation like this,” then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in defense of Obama’s decision at the time.
Granted, no defense was needed, since neither the OSC nor the liberal mainstream media had any interest in pestering Obama about Castro’s misdeeds.
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