Trump Conway

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, left, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with governors on "workforce freedom and mobility" in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog agency recommended Thursday that President Donald Trump fire one of his most ardent defenders, counselor Kellyanne Conway, for repeatedly violating a law that limits political activity by government workers.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, said in a letter to Trump that Conway has been a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.

Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but there are no exceptions for White House employees.

The agency does not have the authority to fire Conway, who was appointed by Trump, so it would be up to the president to follow its recommendation and dismiss one of his most unwavering defenders. The recommendation to fire Conway is the first time the watchdog office has recommended the removal of a White House official over Hatch Act violations.

Conway told reporters who encountered her in the White House press office, “I have no reaction.”

White House spokesman Steven Groves called the agency’s decision “unprecedented” and “deeply flawed” and said it violated Conway’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

A summary of the investigation into Conway stated that beginning in February, Conway engaged in a pattern of partisan attacks on Democratic presidential candidates. She called Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey “sexist” and a “tinny” motivational speaker. In another interview, she accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of “lying” about her ethnicity and “appropriating somebody else’s heritage.” And she attacked former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas for not thinking the women running “are good enough to be president.” It also cited her description of former Vice President Joe Biden as lacking “vision.”

The summary also noted that she used her Twitter account to conduct political activity. For example, she retweeted a March 31 message that referred to Biden as “Creepy Uncle Joe” and “took it upon herself to outline other faults she found in Mr. Biden’s candidacy,” the report said.

The Office of Special Counsel also noted that, during a May 29 media interview, Conway minimized the significance of the law as applied to her.

When asked during the interview about the Hatch Act, Conway replied: “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” and “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Kerner told Trump in his letter that career staff in his office have long conducted thorough and impartial investigations of alleged Hatch Act violations by senior officials in administrations from both parties.

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