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Trump Appointee to Testify About Why He Recommended Kellyanne Conway’s Firing


White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Monday defended herself in the face of an allegation that she violated the Hatch Act, sharing both a Twitter thread she described as a “useful primer” and making an appearance on Fox & Friends. It so happens that the Trump-appointed watchdog who recommended Conway’s firing on June 13 is going to testify and explain his determination.

Henry Kerner, Special Counsel in the Office of Special Counsel (not to be confused with the Special Counsel’s Office), is expected to provide testimony to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. The Daily Beast reported a portion of Kerner’s testimony on Monday.

“Her 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,” it said. “Ms. Conway’s conduct reflects not a misunderstanding of the law, but rather a disregard for it.”

It’s not the first time that Kerner has used the word “disregard” to describe Conway’s conduct.

The press release from the OSC on the matter said 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.” OSC thereby recommended her removal from federal service.

“Ms. Conway’s 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.”

According to the Office of Special Counsel, 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.” Note that 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 insisted on Monday that “It is not even clear to us here at the White House – according to the White House counsel – that the Hatch Act applies to assistants to the president.”

“It’s not even clear what the Hatch Act allows,” she added.

She also shared White House counsel Pat Cipollone‘s opinion on the matter.

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:

If confirmed, Henry Kerner of California will serve as Special Counsel, Office of Special Counsel. Mr. Kerner graduated from Harvard Law School and spent nearly 20 years working as a career prosecutor in California. After law school, he joined the staff of the House Oversight Committee, under Chairman Darrell Issa, the chief investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. Under Chairman Issa, and later, Chairman Chaffetz, he led investigations of the Federal bureaucracy and fought on behalf of whistleblowers to protect American taxpayers. Mr. Kerner was the Staff Director under Ranking Member Sen. John McCain of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the lead investigative committee of Congress. He then became a Vice President at Cause of Action, a nonpartisan oversight group committed to exposing waste, fraud and abuse in the Federal Government and which has worked with whistleblower and good government groups throughout the country.

[Image via Fox News screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.