Following President Donald Trump’s orders, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will not comply with a congressional subpoena seeking to compel her testimony about the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) determination that she violated the Hatch Act and should be fired.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the House Oversight Committee chairman, previously requested that Conway appear at a hearing, but Conway didn’t show, following the advice of the White House. The Committee followed up with a subpoena and, according to the Washington Post, Conway will once again follow the White House’s directive; she will ignore the subpoena.
Cummings said that Conway would not be asked “about advice she gave the president or about the White House policy decisions,” just about her “multiple violations of federal law.” Despite that, White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued that Conway “cannot be compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters related to her service as a senior adviser to the President.”
Cipollone cited “constitutional immunity” and a need to “protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President.”
“The long-standing principle of immunity for senior advisers to the President is firmly rooted in the Constitution’s separation of powers and protects the core functions of the presidency,” he said.
Cummings is now threatening to hold Conway in contempt.
In case you missed it, OSC said that it sent President Trump a report in June saying 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.”
Conway was called a “repeat offender” who has “shown disregard for the law,” and OSC recommended her removal lest she continue unchecked and “thus erode the foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”
Henry Kerner, Special Counsel in the OSC, testified that Conway’s conduct “hurts both federal employees, who may believe that senior officials can act with complete disregard for the Hatch Act, and the American people, who may question the nonpartisan operation of their government.”
“Ms. Conway’s conduct reflects not a misunderstanding of the law, but rather a disregard for it,” Kerner added.
The president declined to fire Conway, and Conway reacted to firing recommendation by saying it was an attempt to “chill” her free speech.
“They want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth,” she said during a Fox & Friends appearance. “They want to chill free speech because they don’t know how to beat [Trump] at the ballot box.”
Trump nominated Kerner to his position in May 2017. In the announcement for Kerner’s nomination, the White House touted Kerner’s extensive experience, including his “nonpartisan” work.
According to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the purpose of the Hatch Act in limiting political activities of federal employees working in the executive branch is to ensure “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.” The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act.
The OSC says violations of the Hatch Act can result in “removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal service for a period not to exceed 5 years, suspension, letter of reprimand, or a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.” Hatch Act violations are not jailable offenses.
OSC found that Conway has violated the Hatch Act in the past. The OSC previously concluded that she “violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews” and “in both instances, Conway appeared in her official capacity.” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Hatch Act complaint accusing Conway of the same thing in early May.
Conway is not the only current or former Trump Admin employee to defy a congressional subpoena at the White House’s request.
President Trump, for his part, has vowed to fight “all the subpoenas.”
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