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What Is the Hatch Act? Why Kellyanne Conway Is Accused of Violations

Renae Reints

A federal watchdog recommended Thursday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from her post due to violations of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that limits the political activity of federally financed employees.

The Hatch Act states that no administrative employee may run for partisan political office or “use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office.” It was originally titled “an act to prevent pernicious political activities,” but has since been named for its author, former New Mexico Senator Carl Hatch.

The Office of Special Counsel (a federal watchdog not to be confused with the office of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller) said Thursday that Conway is a repeat offender of the Hatch Act, as she twice advocated against Democrat Doug Jones (then-candidate for Alabama’s special election for Senate) while speaking in her official capacity as White House counselor in late 2017.

According to the report , Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates” while speaking on Fox News’s Fox & Friends and CNN’s New Day. During each of these interviews, which occurred in November and December 2017, Conway “improperly advocated” for the defeat of Democratic candidate Doug Jones. Conway criticized Jones’s policy stances and voiced support for his opponent, Republican Roy Moore—despite being advised by the White House Communications Office to say, “Let the people of Alabama decide.”

Moreover, the OSC states that Conway has “significant knowledge” of the Hatch Act: she attended ethics training sessions and received documents that covered the restrictions outlined by the act. The Office of White House Counsel contacted Conway after her Fox & Friends interview to remind her of the law’s restrictions, and Conway and other White House Office employees were sent further guidance on matters related to the Hatch Act just two days before the New Day interview.

The OSC report states that Conway had a chance to respond to the allegations against her during the investigation, but did not. The Office of White House Counsel, however, stated that Conway’s words “must be viewed through the prism of one whose job function was to provide commentary concerning the President’s newsworthy reasoning for his position with respect to a nominee within his party, as well as the impact of the special election on his agenda.”

The White House has argued that the OSC’s allegations target Conway’s right to free speech. The Hatch Act states “an employee retains the right to vote as he chooses and to express his opinion on political subjects and candidates;” it is only when acting in one’s official capacity that such opinionated political activities are prohibited. During both interviews, Conway was introduced with her official title as White House Counselor and stood on White House grounds while speaking.

While the OSC recommended Conway be removed from her position, it states that it is the president’s “constitutional authority” to decide on the “appropriate disciplinary action” for an appointed senior officer like Conway. President Donald Trump said Friday that he is not going to fire her , citing her loyalty.

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated Conway was investigated for criticizing Democratic presidential candidates. Conway criticized Alabama Senator Doug Jones, not 2020 candidates.

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