Carper Requests Review of Yet Another Potential Hatch Act Violation by Trump Administration Official
Latest comments by Kellyanne Conway further highlight Trump Administration’s disregard for law prohibiting government officials from using their position, resources to influence political matters
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), has sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) requesting a full review of yet another potential violation of the Hatch Act by a Trump Administration official. This time, the request pertains to several recent on-air statements made by Kellyanne Conway, Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor, regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy.
Over the past two weeks, Ms. Conway has repeatedly commented on Vice President Biden’s candidacy for President of the United States in her official capacity as a Senior Counselor to President Trump. As a White House official, Ms. Conway, under the Hatch Act, is prohibited from using her official position to attempt to influence the outcome of a political election and also from using government resources to make such statements. During two of these recent interviews discussing electoral politics, Ms. Conway was on the White House grounds.
Senator Carper has requested multiple reviews of potential Hatch Act violations by the Trump Administration, and states that the latest incidents, “demonstrate a troubling lack of concern with Hatch Act compliance on the part of the Trump Administration; instead, senior government officials appear free to use their office to influence political elections regardless of the law.”
Following a request from Senator Carper, OSC found that Stephanie Grisham, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the First Lady, violated the Hatch Act after Ms. Grisham shared a picture of President Trump’s campaign rally including a hashtag of the acronym “MAGA,” which stands for “Make America Great Again.” Following another request from Senator Carper, OSC found that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr. had violated the Hatch Act in 2017 by using his official position to oppose the election of Representative Justin Amash. Ms. Grisham and Mr. Scavino were advised that future political activity through their official positions would be considered a “willful and knowing violation of the law.” Senator Carper also wrote to OSC regarding a similar violation involving Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner. Since Senator Carper’s initial request April 2017, the OSC has also concluded that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Ms. Conway have also violated the Hatch Act. OSC referred Ms. Conway’s actions to President Trump for “appropriate disciplinary action.”
Full text of the letter can be found below and here.
May 6, 2019
The Honorable Henry Kerner
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Special Counsel Kerner:
As you know, the Hatch Act generally prohibits certain categories of political activities for all covered employees. I write today to request your assistance with a review of recent oral statements by Kellyanne Conway, Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor.
On April 27, 2019, Ms. Conway made the following statements during an interview on CNN:
“You want to revisit this the way Joe Biden wants to revisit, respectfully, because he doesn’t want to be held to account for his record or lack thereof. And I found his announcement video to be unfortunate, certainly a missed opportunity. But also just very dark and spooky, in that it’s taking us, he doesn’t have a vision for the future.”
The chyron on the bottom of the interview periodically identified Ms. Conway as “Counselor to President Trump.”
On April 30, 2019, Ms. Conway made the following statements in response to a question about infrastructure:
“You’ve got middle-class is booming now despite what Joe Biden says. I don’t know exactly what country he’s talking about when he says he needs to rebuild the middle class. He also just sounds like someone who wasn’t vice president for eight years. He’s got this whole list of grievances of what’s wrong with the country as if he didn’t have, as if he didn’t work in this building for eight years…I know he said that ‘I asked President Obama not to, not to endorse me. I’m too busy getting the endorsement of firefighters but I don’t want a popular president among the Democrats, first African-American president to endorse me.’ Do any of you believe that? You let him get away with his first lie. Why did you do that? So I will ask him if you’re not going to…hey Senator, Vice President Biden, why are 28 million Americans without health insurance nine years after ‘Obama Biden Care’ passed?”
As she began walking away, a reporter said, “You brought up Joe Biden several times unprompted….” Ms. Conway responded, “How was it unprompted? He’s the frontrunner.” During these statements, Ms. Conway stood on the White House grounds.
On May 1, 2019, Ms. Conway made additional comments about Joe Biden:
“Oh we must be worried about Biden, look what Kellyanne said about him today. So thanks for the free commercial about all the things Joe Biden didn’t get done for the eight years he was vice president….I do find it fascinating that the former Vice President Joe Biden said that he asked President Obama not to endorse him, ‘do not endorse me,’ but we know he’s open to endorsements because he got it from the management of the firefighters….”
During these statements, Ms. Conway stood on the White House grounds.
This is not the first controversy involving the Trump Administration’s compliance with the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has previously concluded that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr. violated the Hatch Act in using his official position to oppose the election of Representative Justin Amash. OSC also concluded that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley violated the Hatch Act in using her official position to retweet President Trump’s endorsement of Ralph Norman in a special election. According to your office, Ms. Conway herself has already violated the Hatch Act on at least two separate occasions during discussions of the candidates in the 2017 Alabama special election for U.S. Senate. Even a White House official from the Office of the First Lady violated the Hatch Act after using her official Twitter account to post a message that included #MAGA and a photograph of a 2015 campaign rally. These actions demonstrate a troubling lack of concern with Hatch Act compliance on the part of the Trump Administration; instead, senior government officials appear free to use their office to influence political elections regardless of the law.
As the Special Counsel, you have authority to review potential Hatch Act violations. I request that you use the authority Congress granted you under the Hatch Act of 1939, as amended, to “receive any allegation of a prohibited personnel practice and…investigate the allegation to the extent necessary to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a prohibited personnel practice has occurred, exists, or is to be taken.” I request that you review this letter and act promptly on your findings. I also ask you to report to my staff any recommendation for disciplinary action, if warranted.
With best personal regards, I am
cc: The Honorable Margaret M. Weichert
U.S. Office of Personnel Management