WASHINGTON – Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Donald Trump, violated federal law on two occasions by making public comments supportive of one candidate and against another ahead of a special Senate election in Alabama last year, a federal investigator said Tuesday.
The remarks, in a pair of televised interviews, amounted to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees from using their official capacity to conduct political activity, special counsel Henry Kerner said in a report.
The White House on Tuesday rejected the findings, saying Conway was only reflecting the president’s views when she spoke against Doug Jones, the Democrat running for the Senate seat, and in favor of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate. Jones ultimately won the seat.
Conway “did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “She simply expressed the President’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate who support his agenda.”
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But in an 11-page report, the Office of the Special Counsel concluded that Conway “impermissible mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election” and advised Trump to consider disciplinary action against Conway.
Conway did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the law, federal officials may express their political views as private citizens, but not in their government roles. That includes comments that could influence elections, the report says.
The law is intended to “prevent the impression that the executive branch and the tools of the executive branch are being used to promote political agendas,” said Mark Lee, a former federal prosecutor.
The report centered on appearances by Conway late last year on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends” and on CNN’s “New Day.”
The White House Communications Office gave Conway talking points for the interviews, but Conway’s interview answers “went beyond providing ‘commentary’ on the Administration’s policies, and thus constituted political activity,” according to the findings.
During the Nov. 20 interview on “Fox & Friends,” Conway “volunteered a comment about Doug Jones and the Alabama special election,” even though talking points provided by the White House did not include a reference to Jones, the special counsel found.
On Dec. 6, during a CNN appearance, Conway again discussed the election in a way that diverged from the talking points, according to the report.
She strongly criticized Jones, saying he would vote for tax increases and against national security and the Second Amendment. She added that he was “out of step for Alabama voters, according to the president.”
Though Conway attributed her comments about the candidates to Trump’s position, she “was still providing voters with reasons to vote for Roy Moore and against Doug Jones,” the report said.
In his statement, Gidley noted that Conway twice declined to respond when specifically asked to encourage Alabamians to vote for the Republican, showing “her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act.”
This is not the first time Conway has been accused of ethics violations over her public remarks. Last year, she was upbraided by a top federal ethics official for touting the clothing line sold by Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump. The White House said Conway was “counseled” after that misstep, but no further disciplinary action was taken.
Another White House official was previously found to have violated the Hatch Act. The special counsel’s office last year found that White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. violated the law when he posted on Twitter urging Trump’s supporters to defeat a GOP congressman, Justin Amash, in Michigan.