On Tuesday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) ruled that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway twice violated a federal law prohibiting federal officials from using their offices for partisan purposes. The incidents in question stem from Conway using national TV interviews to endorse the U.S. Senate candidacy of Roy Moore.
The OSC says it submitted its findings to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.” But instead of disciplining Conway — or even condemning her comments, for that matter — the White House released a statement expressing contempt for the idea that the rules apply to them in the first place.
“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” the White House statement, attributed to deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, says. “She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have [sic] people in the House and Senate who support his agenda.”
— Fin Gomez (@finnygo) March 6, 2018
In an Orwellian twist, the statement concludes by asserting that Conway’s violation of the Hatch Act illustrates her desire to comply with the Hatch Act.
“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,” the statement says.
But White House’s claim that Conway “did not advocate” for the election of Moore — who was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones after numerous women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault, including child molestation — is absurd. During a Fox & Friends appearance in November, she told viewers, “Doug Jones in Alabama? 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,” she said, in an apparent attempt to assuage the consciences of Republicans turned off by the misconduct allegations against Moore.
“I’m telling you, we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” she concluded, seeming to catch herself after a host directly asked if she was urging viewers to vote for Moore.
The OSC found that Conway also violated the Hatch Act two weeks later on CNN’s New Day when she “discussed why voters should support Republican Roy Moore and not Democrat Doug Jones.”
This isn’t the first time a federal oversight agency has recommended action against Conway, nor is it the first time the White House has instead elected to defend her, not discipline her. After Ivanka Trump’s product line was dropped by Nordstrom in February 2017, Conway provided an explicit endorsement for Ivanka-branded merchandise on Fox & Friends, telling hosts she was “just gonna give a free commercial here.”
“I hate shopping, but I am going to go get some myself today,” Conway said. “This is just — it’s a wonderful line, I own some of it, I’m just gonna give a free commercial here, go buy it today, you can buy it online.”
Following that episode, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) sent the White House a letter asking for an investigation and recommending that Conway be disciplined. Instead, White House deputy counsel Stefan Passantino claimed the whole thing was just an accident.
“We concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again,” Passantino wrote. “Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the standards and has reiterated her commitment to abiding by them in the future.”