Conway

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters outside of the White House, April 30, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway should be removed from office for repeatedly violating a law barring federal employees from engaging in election politics in their official capacity, the Office of Special Counsel has recommended.

The Office of Special Counsel Thursday sent a report to President Donald Trump, detailing how Conway, a South Jersey native, "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," according to a statement.

Here's what you need to know about the Hatch Act, what the office says about Conway, and how officials are reacting to the agency's recommendation.

—What the Office of Special Counsel recommended

The office said Conway was repeat offender of the Hatch Act, and should be removed from her federal position as a result.

A letter from the head of the office, Trump-appointee Henry Kerner, called Conway's "disregard for the restrictions" of the Hatch Act "unacceptable."

"Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions," Kerner wrote to Trump. "Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system —the rule of law."

Although the agency has previously cited officials for violating the Hatch Act, this marks the first time the counsel has recommended a White House official be removed from office, Politico reported.

While the office can recommend Conway's ouster, only Trump has the power to remove her.

In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Kerner said he has "no animus" toward Conway, and that he defers to Trump.

"We respect his decision and, of course, the president has any option he'd like_to reprimand or not to reprimand," Kerner said. "It is up to the president's discretion and we respect that."

—How Conway violated the Hatch Act, according to the office

According the report, Conway violated the Hatch Act during media appearances and while using her Twitter account in an official capacity to engage in partisan attacks against several Democrats, shortly after they announced their bids for president.

The report highlights Conway's interviews in which she called New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker "sexist" and a "tinny" "motivational speaker," suggested Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was "lying" about her ethnicity, and said former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke did not "think the women running against him are good enough to be president."

Conway also attacked former Vice President Joe Biden in interviews and over Twitter, calling him "Creepy Uncle Joe" and describing his announcement video as "dark and spooky," while advocating for Trump, tweeting, "#2020I'mWithHim."

"After investigating these allegations, OSC has determined that Ms. Conway repeatedly violated the Hatch Act," the report states. "Notably, this is not the first time that OSC has concluded that Ms. Conway broke the law."

The Trump aide was well aware of her behavior, the report says, pointing to an interview in March with The Hill in which reporters questioned her previous violations of the Hatch Act.

"Blah, blah, blah," Conway reportedly said. "If you're trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it's not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts."

—A history of 'blatant disregard'

The report noted that Conway had received numerous warnings and another disciplinary action referral in March 2018 from the ethics watchdog for violating the Hatch Act, but failed to comply with the office's requests, and instead "escalated her partisan critiques of candidates after OSC had communicated to the White House that her conduct violated the law."

In 2017, she was "counseled" after touting Ivanka Trump's clothing line. In 2018, she violated the Hatch Act two more times for making comments in favor of candidate Roy Moore and against Doug Jones during the Alabama Senate special election.

But her actions persisted, the agency said.

"Yet, in blatant disregard for the law, Ms. Conway continues to violate the Hatch Act by engaging in this same misconduct," the report states. "Accordingly, OSC refers these more recent violations to the President and requests her removal from federal employment."

—What is the Hatch Act? What is the Office of Special Counsel?

The Hatch Act prohibits civilian federal employees from using their positions to engage in partisan political activity. The 1939 law is named for former New Mexico Sen. Carl Hatch.

The Office of Special Counsel is a federal watchdog agency that enforces the Hatch Act. The office is not related special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

—Next steps

The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced it would hold a hearing with the office over the alleged violations later this month. In addition to the recent accusations, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he also had concerns over Conway's use of private jets, role in the administration's opioids-control strategy, and the White House's refusal to present requested documents on either.

"Allowing Ms. Conway to continue her position of trust at the White House would demonstrate that the President is not interested in following the law_or requiring his closest aides to do so," Cummings said in a statement.

—What the Trump administration is saying about the Conway report

White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves fired back at the agency's report, calling the office's actions against Conway "unprecedented," "deeply flawed," and in violation of the aide's constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

"Others, of all political views, have objected to the (Office of Special Counsel's) unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees," Groves said. "Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations —and perhaps OSC should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, non-political manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act."

White House counsel Pat Cipollone penned a similarly heated response to the report, calling the allegations "unsubstantiated," and pointing to the narrow overnight timeframe the office gave the White House to respond as evidence the "report was the product of a fatally flawed process."

When CNBC reporter Eamon Javers asked Conway for comment Thursday, the White House aide reportedly had nothing to say.

"I asked for her reaction to this," Jeavers tweeted. "She pointed to the door and said 'can you leave, please?' Later, I asked her again, and she said: 'I have no reaction. Why would I give you a reaction?'"

—Other Hatch Act violations

At least 10 Trump administration officials have been cited by the office for Hatch Act violations, including first lady Melania Trump's communications director Stephanie Grisham and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley. The office also cited some Obama administration officials for violations of the act, including former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

In 2008, Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration under former President George W. Bush, was forced to resign after the office said she violated the Hatch Act for allegedly using GSA political appointees to help Republican lawmakers win reelection.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

—__

From Camden County to Capitol Hill

Conway, 52, grew up in Atco, on the eastern edge of Camden County, and was the valedictorian of the 1985 class at St. Joseph's High School in Hammonton. She worked as a pollster for notable Republicans like Newt Gingrich, former House speaker; Mike Pence, former governor of Indiana and now vice president; Dan Quayle, former vice president; and 2012 Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Known for her spin tactics, in 2016, she became the first woman to manage a successful United States presidential campaign. Her husband, George Conway, is a noted critic of Trump, and this week penned an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for impeachment proceedings to begin against the president.

—__

(Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this report.)

—__

(c)2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

—____

PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):CONWAY