The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint alleging that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is illegally campaigning while she’s supposed to be working as a government official — again.
Conway touted President Donald Trump while attacking Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) in her official capacity on the grounds of the White House, the group complained to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in a letter dated Wednesday.
Conway’s activities violate the Hatch Act, which forbids any federal official from using their position for partisan campaigning, the watchdog group said. The Office of Special Counsel (a government agency that enforces the Hatch Act and has no connection to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation) warned Conway about previous Hatch Act violations last year.
Conway “violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews” in 2017 with comments about candidates in Alabama’s special election in her “official capacity,” the Office of Special Counsel said in March 2018. The findings were forwarded to President Donald Trump to take “appropriate disciplinary action.” The White House wrist-slapped Conway with a warning.
The latest complaints involve four recent television interviews in which Conway attacked Democratic presidential candidates. CNN host Michael Smerconish, who interviewed her in one of the cases, later said on his SiriusXM radio program that he thought at the time that Conway was violating the Hatch Act.
“I had been told that you really can’t address particular Democratic candidates with Kellyanne Conway [in the interview} because there will be a Hatch Act issue,” Smerconish recalled. “She’s on the payroll of the White House; she can’t be partisan in her comments. So I was a little taken aback when ... she pivots and wants to talk about Biden and talk about how gloomy and creepy and dark she found his message to be.”
MSNBC’s “The Last Word” host Lawrence O’Donnell last week showed a video of Conway in one of the interviews, and warned: “She’s going to need a lawyer” because she was “illegally campaigning against Joe Biden for Donald Trump while holding her position on the federal payroll.”
The complaint said Conway’s recent lawbreaking is “even more egregious,” given her previous Hatch Act violations.
“In short, Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and it seems clear that neither prior guidance by the White House Counsel’s office nor prior admonition by OSC have deterred her from breaking the law,” the complaint said.
The new Hatch Act violations are in “no way exhaustive” of Conway’s lawbreaking, the ethics group said.
Richard Painter, a former senior ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said Thursday that Conway likely again violated the Hatch Act by posting a photo of herself on her Twitter page in front of the White House holding a crossed-out “collusion” sign.
Painter, on Twitter, characterized Conway as a “walking, talking, Tweeting Hatch Act violation.”
The Hatch Act prohibits “executive branch employees” from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” Violations can result in removal from office, disbarment from federal service, suspension, a letter of reprimand or a fine of up to $1,000.