Deputy White House Press Secretary Steven Groves released a statement saying that the office has “unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees.” And White House Counsel Pat Cipollone requested that the office withdraw its report on Conway, writing in a letter that “the White House must ensure that OSC exercises its significant authority in an appropriate and neutral manner.”
But Henry Kerner, the special counsel (a completely separate role from the the Special Counsel’s Office, which was previously run by Robert Mueller), is standing firm. A Trump appointee, Kerner acknowledged what was an “unprecedented” step against Conway in comments to the Washington Post.
“You know what else is unprecedented?” he added. “Kellyanne Conway’s behavior.”
“In interview after interview, she uses her official capacity to disparage announced candidates, which is not allowed,” he continued. “What kind of example does that send to the federal workforce? If you’re high enough up in the White House, you break the law, but if you’re a postal carrier or a regular federal worker, you lose your job?”
Conway had previously been reprimanded when she directed viewers of Fox News to buy products from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, which she is not allowed to promote from her federal post. But most of her violations of the Hatch Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel, stem from her advocacy for and against certain electoral candidates, which federal employees (the president and the vice president excepted) are barred from doing.
The White House argued that enforcement of this act inhibits the free speech of federal employees, but employees like Conway are free to resign and join the Trump campaign if they wish to be paid political advocates. The purpose of the Hatch Act is to prevent the president from using the federal government to advance his narrow electoral ends. The White House also complained that the office is partisan and biased against Republicans, but this claim is senseless, given it is led by a Trump appointee.
“Typical White House gas lighting,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, of the White House’s complaints. “OSC’s leader is a Trump appointee from a respected right-leaning watchdog group.”
IMAGE: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton