The House Oversight Committee voted today 25-16 to subpoena Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, when she failed to appear voluntarily at a hearing spotlighting her alleged violations of the Hatch Act, the New York Times reports. The Office of the Special Counsel found that she has repeatedly violated ethics laws.
Henry J. Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel and author of the report that found that Conway had violated the Hatch Act on multiple occasions, testified that Conway’s actions “created an unprecedented challenge to OSC’s ability to enforce the Hatch Act”. He said, “Her conduct sent a false message to other federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act, or that senior officials are above the law. I’m here to emphatically say that’s not the case.”
Kerner, who is a Republican Trump appointee who previously worked for Darrell Issa, told the committee Conway should be fired from her White House position for her “egregious, repeated, and very public violations” of the Hatch Act, The Hill reports.
The White House has rejected the OSC findings and declared Conway “absolutely immune”. President Trump has said he has no intention of firing her. White House counsel Pat Cipollone has argued that Conway’s First Amendment rights are being violated and Conway states that the law does not apply to her. She told Fox & Friends, “They want to silence me now. These are my First Amendment rights, they want to chill freedom of speech because they don’t know how to beat him at the ballot box. Even if the Hatch Act applies, our position is, I haven’t violated it.”
Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the Oversight Committee, signaled his willingness to hold Conway in contempt if she refuses to comply with the Congressional subpoena, according to the Times. “There are rarely issues that come before our committee that are so clear cut, but this is one of them. This is about right and wrong. Contrary to claims Ms. Conway and President Trump have made, this is not a conspiracy to silence her or restrict her First Amendment rights. This is an effort to enforce federal law,” Cummings said.
The Chairman also pointed out that the White House’s rational for preventing Conway from testifying was “baseless”, observing that the committee was not asking for testimony involving private conversations with the president.
Jim Jordan, ranking member on the committee, said the report was unprecedented and unfair. “The report is outrageous, it’s unprecedented, it’s unfair and it’s just wrong,” Jordan said, and stated that the OSC “doesn’t like the fact Ms. Conway is conservative.” He continued, “She’s being targeted because she is good at what she does, and this is why this should not stand.”
The Hatch Act ensures public officials do not use their official capacities to influence elections. In his testimony, Kerner said, “At a time when the country appears sharply divided on partisan lines, the public must be able to trust that regardless of which party is in power, or which candidate a federal employee supports, federal law is administered uniformly and without partisan bias.” He states that Conway was given multiple opportunities to come into compliance with the law and has consistently refused.
Furthermore, he explained that the 1939 law was written with the understanding that individuals, even former campaign officials, can be employed as advisers to the president and not participate in election activities as defined by the Act. He also pointed out the law is not new and all former administrations were expected to adhere to it.
Justin Amash, the Republican critic of President Trump who has publicly advocated for impeachment, crossed the aisle as the only Republican voting in favor of issuing a subpoena for Kellyanne Conway, per Axios.