Did Kellyanne Conway’s Roy Moore Comments Violate Federal Ethics Law?

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway stands before President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Washington. Trump is announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for electronics giant Foxconn in a project that's expected to result in billions of dollars in investment in the state and create thousands of jobs. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP
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White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is once again in hot water for a remark made in a TV interview.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel confirmed it is opening an investigation into a possible Hatch Act violation by Conway after she weighed in on the Alabama Senate race in an interview with Fox News.

In that interview, Conway attacked Democratic candidate Doug Jones as “weak on crime,” “weak on borders,” and “terrible for property owners.” Asked if she supported Roy Moore, who has been accused of pursuing and assaulting multiple underage girls several decades ago, she refused to answer directly, but suggested she wanted the Republican candidate to prevail. “We want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” she said.

According to Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, these statements violate the Hatch Act, a federal ethics laws that prohibits current administration officials from endorsing political candidates in their official capacity.

Shaub, who quit this summer, saying he could not do his job under an administration so unwilling to address ethical concerns, noted this week that Conway conducted the interview on the White House lawn and using her official title. He has filed a formal complaint about the incident with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on behalf of the watchdog organization Campaign Legal Center, which he joined earlier this year.

In his request for a Special Counsel investigation, obtained by TPM, Shaub wrote: “Ms. Conway’s remarks were an obvious attempt to influence the election by convincing the public that voting for Roy Moore would jeopardize passage of the tax plan the President endorsed. The unmistakable message of her remarks was: Don’t vote for Doug Jones.”

The White House has denied Conway committed any violation.

“Ms. Conway did not advocate for or against the election of a candidate, and specifically declined to encourage Alabamans to vote a certain way,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement to Politico. “She was speaking about issues and her support for the president’s agenda. This election is for the people of Alabama to decide.”

Such ethical accusations are nothing new to the Trump administration.

Conway was investigated in February for using a TV interview to promote Ivanka Trump’s products. The Office of Special Counsel found Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley guilty of violating the Hatch Act for retweeting President Donald Trump’s endorsement of South Carolina congressional candidate Ralph Norman. White House social media director Dan Scavino violated the Hatch Act by urging followers of his official account to defeat Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) in a primary.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

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