(ABC) An independent government investigative agency said on Tuesday that senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway twice violated a federal law prohibiting government employees from engaging in political activities.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which is in not affiliated with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, announced Tuesday that Conway violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews.
"In the first interview, Conway advocated against one Senate candidate and gave an implied endorsement of another candidate," the OSC said in a statement following its investigation. "In the second interview, she advocated for the defeat of one Senate candidate and the election of another candidate."
The interviews occurred last November and December when President Donald Trump came out in support of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama's U.S. Senate special election. Conway appeared in her official capacity as counselor to the president on both "Fox and Friends" and CNN's "New Day" and "discussed why voters should support" Moore over his Democratic opponent Doug Jones, the OSC said.
“Ms. Conway’s statements during the Fox & Friends and New Day interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate,” according to the OSC.
"Doug Jones in Alabama, folks don’t be fooled," Conway said during her "Fox and Friends" interview. "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."
The OSC says it has referred its report to President Trump, but the White House quickly disputed the OSC finding, making it unlikely Conway will face any serious discipline.
“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda," deputy press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. "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.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wants the president to take disciplinary action against Conway.
“This is not the first time that an independent government agency has recommended that the White House discipline Kellyanne Conway for breaking the law. Ms. Conway has received multiple trainings and warnings, yet she still refuses to follow basic ethics rules. The President must take swift and serious disciplinary action against Ms. Conway. Anything else sets a terrible example.”
The report from the OSC claims the office gave her ample opportunity to respond to their report, which included a commitment from the White House counsel’s office that it said Conway never followed through on.
The report also details how Conway was briefed in some manner at least five separate times on the Hatch Act and the consequences for violating it.
According to the OSC's website, the Hatch Act dates back to 1939, and is intended "to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation." There are a few exceptions to the rule, including the president, vice president and some other federal employees.
In early 2017 Conway was similarly found to have violated federal ethics rules in an appearance on "Fox and Friends" when she urged viewers to purchase items from Ivanka Trump's clothing line. A report from the Office of Government Ethics was then referred to the president, but no significant disciplinary action was taken as a response.
Conway is also not the first Trump White House official to be found in violation of the Hatch Act. Social media director Dan Scavino was issued a warning by the OSC after writing a tweet from his personal verified account against Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., calling for his defeat in a primary.