The Office of Special Counsel [unrelated to the special counsel who investigated the president] on Thursday recommended the removal of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal office for violating the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work.
The report submitted to President Trump found that Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
The decision about whether to remove Conway is up to Trump.
Trump will do nothing and, despite his obligation to uphold the law, seems to sneer at Hatch Act violations.
Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 told me, “Kellyanne Conway ought to leave her job immediately. She is a repeat offender who was warned early on about her violation of the Hatch Act and chose to ignore the warnings and keep on violating the rules.” He added, “President Trump will no doubt refuse to remove her from her position. But it is really up to Ms. Conway to accept the fact that no man or woman is above the law and move on to the next phase of her life.”
We should marvel not at the repeat offenses of a member of an administration rife with corruption, conflicts of interest and lawbreaking, but at the existence of a public servant appointed by Trump who is nevertheless ready to uphold the law. (“The Office of Special Counsel is a quasi-judicial independent agency that adjudicates claims of retaliation by whistleblowers and administers the Hatch Act and other civil service rules," The Post explained. Daniel Jacobson, who worked on ethics and compliance matters in the Obama administration, "said he could not recall a previous episode in which the agency recommended such drastic action against a White House appointee.”)
Walter Shaub, who previously headed the Office of Government Ethics, told me that Special Counsel Henry Kerner "did what was required of him — uphold the agency mission he swore to uphold. In these times and this lawless administration, however, that is a rare act of selfless courage. Hats off to him, and may others follow his example.”
Conway is not alone in her contempt for the Hatch Act. “Others sanctioned by the Office of Special Counsel for political messages include former interior secretary Ryan Zinke; Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman; Dan Scavino, former White House social media director; and Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations," The Post said.
Several points should be underscored.
First, this is no ticky-tacky violation. The Hatch Act is an anti-corruption statute that prevents government employees from misusing government resources for partisan purposes. Ironically, the chief offender would seem to be the president, who misuses government resources not merely for partisan purposes but to enrich himself and his family (e.g. advertising his properties, collecting revenue by virtue of foreign governments’ expenditures).
Second, if the House ever gets around to drafting articles of impeachment, it can throw this one on the mound of offenses. Trump encourages and commends lawbreaking in violation of his duty to uphold the law.
Third, Congress can, and should, strengthen the Hatch Act by providing for fines and other penalties for violation. The same government agency that now investigates and recommends punishment should be empowered to penalize wrongdoers, subject to court review/appeal.
Trump ran on the premise that an outsider was needed to drain the swamp. He argued that, as a (purported) billionaire, he’d be immune from temptation and influence peddling. Forget that. This is arguably the most corrupt administration in history. A former national security adviser has already pleaded guilty to a felony, the president is an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to violate campaign-finance law, multiple officials have been forced to resign under a cloud of scandal (e.g. Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, Brock Long), nepotism has reached new lows, and the president routinely appears to violate the rule of law. That doesn’t even include Trump’s rampant efforts to obstruct justice documented in the Mueller report.
Yet Republicans defend this ethical cesspool — for what? A few judges (who they expect to vindicate Trump) and an unpopular tax cut? The crime spree and betrayal of the oaths of office that we’ve witnessed is the natural result of a party willing to shut up and enable and excuse any and all conduct for the sake of clinging to power. Not only Conway but the whole lot of them must go.