Opinion

Ethics Watchdog Calls for Twitter to Suspend Kellyanne Conway for Constantly Violating the Hatch Act

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has put White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on blast for the way Donald Trump allows her to operate with total impunity from federal law. Honestly, few things could be as 2019 as CREW’s latest complaint about Conway: it was pretty much a call for Twitter to ban her.

That’s right. CREW declared that Conway not only violated the Hatch Act (as we’ve known for some time), but that her repeated legal violations mean she’s also violated Twitter’s Terms of Service, meaning that her use of the platform could be suspended.

Gauntlet. Thrown.

Now we’ll have to see if Twitter is as impressed with Conway’s misconduct as was CREW and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). And let’s be clear: if Twitter doesn’t care about Conway’s Hatch violations, it doesn’t care about anyone’s.

For reference, the art of the Hatch Act we’re talking about dictates as follows:

“an employee may take an active part in political management or in political campaigns, except an employee may not—

use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election;”

Conway is pretty much the platinum standard when it comes to tweeting, “for the purpose of  interfering with the result of an election. “Conway’s Twitter feed is packed with memes and retweets about how Trump is awesome and Democrats stink. She’s especially concerned with Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren of late.

CREW released a report Friday that detailed over fifty Hatch Act violations that occurred on Twitter alone – and only during this past year.  According to Twitter’s rules, that should mean that Conway gets kicked off the platform.

OSC has jurisdiction over enforcement of the Hatch Act, and it recommended that President Trump fire Conway for her many, many violations. “Ms. Conways violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by Hatch Act’s restrictions,” OSC said. “Her actions thus erode the foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.” This was a totally unprecedented move by OSC; it had never prior to this recommended that any president fire a White House staffer for repeated Hatch Act violations.

The White House responded to OSC’s recommendation with defense of Conway that was blatantly wrong on the law:

Conway wasn’t fired, and the Hatch violations just kept coming. CREW nicely summarized Conway’s online behavior in the aftermath of the OSC recommendations:

Although Conway has made some minor changes to her Twitter profile since June, her @KellyannePolls account still references her “Counselor” title, still includes images of her on the White House grounds, and Conway still uses the account for official business, including promoting her appearances on behalf of the Trump administration. As a result, her Twitter feed remains an account that she uses for official government business and thus is subject to the Hatch Act’s prohibition on political activity. Most importantly, her practice of using the account to make political statements has continued in the months since OSC’s rebuke.

Twitter’s Terms of Service and Rules are pretty clear: users cannot use Twitter in a way that violates the law. The Hatch Act is a law, and Kellyanne Conway has obviously violated it. Still, one wonders if things will be quite that clear for the folks up at Twitter HQ.

Generally speaking, the Hatch Act isn’t a federal law that looms large over powerful government types. It is a civil (not criminal) statute, and penalties for violators do not include jail time. But when it comes to Twitter usage, the seriousness of a Hatch Act violation really isn’t the issue. The clarity of the violation is:

While Conway’s offending tweets are not racist and certainly do not incite violence, they meet a far clearer standard — a federal law enforcement agency has found that they violate federal law.

While the President has failed to hold Conway accountable for using her government post to promote his political campaign, Twitter certainly could take action in response to her flagrant violations of the platform’s rules to illegally influence our elections.

Twitter certainly could, whether it would is another story.

[Image via Mark Wilson/ Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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