UPDATED: WASHINGTON — Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to President Trump, was cited for two violations of an ethics law prohibiting government officials from using their official capacity to advocate for or against political candidates.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said it found that Conway violated the Hatch Act in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Nov. 20, by talking about why voters should not support Doug Jones, the Democrat in the special election for a Senate seat in Alabama. The office also said she violated the Hatch Act when she appeared on CNN’s “New Day” on Dec. 6, and discussed why voters should back Roy Moore, the Republican running for the seat. Jones ended up winning the race.
“While the Hatch act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, it restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes, including by trying to influence partisan elections,” according to the report from the Office of Special Counsel investigation. The report concluded that Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates.”
The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, but their employees are not.
The office referred their report to Trump for disciplinary action. The office said Conway fell under a category of employee where it was up to the president to take any such action.
The White House issued a statement pushing back on the conclusions.
“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” the statement, from spokesman Hogan Gidley, said. “She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda. In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act, as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamans to vote for the Republican.”
According to the Office of Special Counsel report, in the appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Conway “volunteered” a comment about Jones, telling host Steve Doocy, “Folks don’t be fooled. 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.” When Doocy asked about voting for Moore, Conway replied, “I’m telling you that we want the votes in– in– in the Senate to get this tax– this tax bill through …. Let me tell you something this guy Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal.”
On “New Day,” according to the report, host Chris Cuomo asked Conway about Trump’s support of Moore.
“You feel good with Roy Moore as a reflection of your party?” he asked.
According to the report, “After Ms. Conway responded that her ‘feelings don’t matter,’ Mr. Cuomo said ‘[o]h yes they do. You are Counselor to the President of the United States.’
“Ms. Conway then remarked ‘[a]nytime I express a feeling about a candidate, people who want to make themselves relevant get air time and Twitter time, so I won’t go there.’ Speaking over Ms. Conway’s statement, Mr. Cuomo stated that she has ‘got to be careful about the Hatch Act.’ Ms. Conway continued, stating: ‘They’re going to have to find something … relevant and important to do today to make themselves feel better.’ Mr. Cuomo then stated, ‘[y]ou have to be careful about observing the rules of ethics there ….’ And Ms. Conway said, ‘[l]et me tell you what I feel good about …. That Donald Trump’s the President of the United States. That Mike Pence is the Vice President of the United States.'”
She later said that the “only endorsement that’s mattered in the Alabama race … is the president’s because after he came out against Doug Jones, and none of you seem to want to say those nine letters, Doug Jones, that God forbid people find out who he is and who he would be in the Senate, so the president had to go out and do it for you.”
Conway previously was cited by the Office of Government Ethics for a violation last year after making on-air comments that appeared to promote Ivanka Trump’s retail product brands. Walter Shaub, who then led the Office of Government Ethics, recommended that she be disciplined, but the White House said that the comment was inadvertent.
The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency tasked with enforcing laws governing federal employees. It is not to be confused with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is overseen by the Justice Department.