White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks with reporters outside the White House on Tuesday.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks with reporters outside the White House on Tuesday. Evan Vucci / AP

Presidential Counselor Again Risks Hatch Act Violations

Conway’s White House driveway comments on Democratic candidate Biden draw scrutiny.

Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has been reprimanded in the past for Hatch Act and ethics rules violations, is under new scrutiny for comments made this week at the White House on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“I do find it fascinating that the former Vice President Joe Biden said that he asked President Obama not to endorse him,” she said on May 1 while standing on the White House driveway. “But we know he’s open to endorsement because he got it from the management of the” International Association of Fire Fighters, whose early endorsement of a Democrat angered President Trump.

Both Trump and Biden are declared candidates for 2020, which means that employees on the federal payroll—except the president and vice president—risk violating the Hatch Act if they speak out in ways that could influence campaigns. Conway also sarcastically thanked the media “for the free commercial on all the things Joe Biden didn’t get done for the eight years he was vice president.”

The comments were blasted by MSNBC host and commentator Lawrence O’Donnell, who said Conway needed a lawyer. And the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which in the past filed complaints against Conway, told Government Executive on Friday it is reviewing the situation. “This White House has shown a pattern of not caring about the Hatch Act, and we continue to monitor them for potential violations,” communications director Jordan Libowitz said.

Conway was singled out for criticism by the Office of Government Ethics early in the Trump administration for on-camera comments at the White House promoting Ivanka Trump’s fashion products. And the Office of Special Counsel in March 2018 recommended her for discipline after she gave interviews at the White House on the 2017 Alabama Senate special election.

The White House, which did not respond to inquiries, in the past has said that Conway has undergone ethics counseling.

Richard Painter, an ethics adviser to President George W. Bush who is now a law professor the University of Minnesota, told Government Executive on Friday that “this is a slam dunk Hatch Act violation.” Conway keeps giving official interviews on that same spot at the White House where the television crews hang out, he noted. But she was told “in writing by the Office of Special Counsel that she had violated the Hatch Act, and she knows it,” Painter said. “The presumptive punishment is firing. But the White House simply says they disagree with the Office of Special Counsel and does nothing.”

Painter said he considers the issue another reason Congress should be considering impeachment of Trump. “He doesn’t want to make the people working for him obey the law," Painter said. "But yes, if you’re president, you have an obligation to.”