WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog agency released a report Thursday recommending that senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from office for using her position to engage in prohibited political activity.
The Office of Special Counsel — which is not the same as the office of former special counsel Robert Mueller — found that Conway repeatedly used her platform as a White House official to attack Democrats running for president in the 2020 election and to promote President Donald Trump’s candidacy.
The office concluded that Conway’s behavior violated the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from using their position to affect the results of an election. That means officials aren’t allowed to participate in political activity from any official platform, including social media.
“If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her position,” special counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a letter to the White House introducing the report. “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.”
It’s not the first time the Office of Special Counsel found that Conway violated the Hatch Act, and that informed their decision now to recommend her removal; the office previously sent a disciplinary referral to the White House in March 2018. The office said it had repeatedly put Conway and the White House on notice that her behavior was against the law, to no avail.
“Ms. Conway failed to comply with OSC’s requests and, in fact, escalated her partisan critiques of candidates after OSC had communicated to the White House that her conduct violated the law. In sum, Ms. Conway continues to violate the Hatch Act and signals that she will not comply with the law,” the office wrote.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone responded to the OSC in a letter released Thursday, writing that the office’s report on Conway “is based on multiple fundamental legal and factual errors, makes unfair and unsupported claims against a close adviser to the President and is the product of a blatantly unfair process.” In the letter, dated June 11, Cipollone also wrote that the OSC suggestion that Trump fire Conway “is as outrageous as it it is unprecedented.”
Cipollone went on to call on the OSC to “withdraw and retract” the report and requested a variety of documents relating to the investigation.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — which filed complaints about Conway with the Office of Special Counsel — told BuzzFeed News that the watchdog agency didn't have authority to remove Conway or take other disciplinary action if the White House chose not to.
"But nonetheless this is a really, really extraordinary thing that happened. Usually what happens is they just find a violation and send it to the agency, in this case, the president, for appropriate action. And they've done that with Kellyanne Conway," Bookbinder said. "As far as I know, this is the first time with a White House official that they have ever come out and said, We think this person should be fired."
House Democrats are also taking action. House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings announced that he would hold a hearing on June 26 to explore the Office of Special Counsel's findings and that they would invite Conway to attend.
"Allowing Ms. Conway to continue her position of trust at the White House would demonstrate that the President is not interested in following the law—or requiring his closest aides to do so," Cummings said in a statement.
The latest OSC report began by quoting a May 29 interview that Conway gave about the possibility that she’d violated the Hatch Act, noting that she’d “scoffed at her responsibilities under the Hatch Act and ridiculed its enforcement by asserting, ‘Let me know when the jail sentence starts.’”
Conway also told a reporter at the time who was going over the Office of Special Counsel’s previous findings about her issues with the Hatch Act: “Blah, blah, blah.”
The report identified a series of public comments and tweets from Conway about Democratic presidential candidates that the office found violated the law, including saying that Sen. Cory Booker was “sexist,” that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was “lying” about her ethnic heritage, that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ideas were “terrible for America,” and that former vice president Joe Biden lacked “vision” and had put out an announcement video that was “very dark and spooky.”
The office also highlighted Conway’s “open endorsement” of Trump’s reelection campaign when she was acting in her official capacity as a White House adviser.
Previously, in March 2018, the Office of Special Counsel had informed the White House that Conway had violated the law in making comments about the 2017 Senate special election in Alabama, between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.
Conway went on Fox & Friends before the election and attacked Jones, calling him a “doctrinaire liberal,” according to a Politico report at the time: “‘[F]olks, don't be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.’”
Jones won the election.
This story was updated with comment from Noah Bookbinder and Rep. Elijah Cummings.
This story was updated to include a letter from the White House counsel in response to OSC's report on Conway.