The White House denies a special counsel’s finding that White House aide Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act by advocating for political candidates while conducting official government business.
The special counsel, Henry Kerner, told President Donald Trump in a letter that during television interviews late last year Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election.”
Kerner pointed to interviews Conway did in November and December with CNN’s “New Day” and Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” programs. The interviews came during a special election in the Yellowhammer State in which Democrat Doug Jones defeated controversial Republican Roy Moore.
In one interview with the Fox show, Conway said of Jones: “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.”
The 1939 Hatch Act prohibits most executive branch employees — except the president, vice president and a handful of others — from conducting political business while in their official capacity.
A report accompanying Kerner’s letter details several occasions on which the White House Counsel’s Office, either in group ethics training sessions or direct correspondence to Conway, spelled out what the Hatch Act prohibits.
According to the report, she received an email from that office on Nov. 20, 2017 that contained this pithy summary of the law: “You may not use your official position to affect the result of an election.”
“You may not, for example, use your official title when participating in any political activities, nor may you use your official authority to encourage or coerce anyone (including subordinates) to engage in or refrain from engaging in political Activity,” the White House Counsel’s Office told Conway. “This includes through use of official social media accounts.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley denied Conway did anything wrong, despite her own words in the Fox interview.
“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” Gidley said in a statement. “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 Alabamians to vote for the Republican,” he said.
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