Yesterday afternoon, the Office of Special Counsel advised that President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, after several violations of the Hatch Act. This law limits the abilities of any federal employee to engage in political activity, such as influencing an election, while in office.
“As a highly visible member of the Administration, 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,” the federal watchdog group wrote in a letter to President Trump. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system—the rule of law.” If you’re wondering what exactly this law means, let’s get you up to speed.
What is the Hatch Act?
The Hatch Act was initially conceived by New Mexico Senator Carl Hatch and eventually signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. Relevant to Conway’s situation, the Hatch Act limits the powers of any federal employee to engage in any political activity—defined by the counsel as actions directed at the success or failure of a political party, political group or candidate—while using their title and serving in office; it’s a conflict of interest, after all. The Act prohibits any activity that may influence an election.
The President, Vice President, and some senior officials are immune to the Hatch Act (which makes sense to a certain point, particularly if a president is campaigning for re-election).
But let’s remember: This act was passed in 1939—a time well before Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. For this reason, the act itself doesn’t explicitly make any distinctions regarding social media practices.
Still, in 2018, the counsel issued its own guide on social media which state their positions—mainly, that you cannot use a social media account to make posts that engage in any behavior as mentioned above.
What is the counsel accusing Conway of?
The counsel states that Conway participated in media interviews and used her social media accounts, with her title, to engage in activity affecting the midterm elections; she has also made a number of remarks aimed at 2020 presidential candidates including Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former congressmember Beto O’Rourke, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
She has also openly endorsed Trump’s re-election. “Ms. Conway’s advocacy against the Democratic candidates and open endorsement of the President’s reelection effort during both official media appearances and on her Twitter account constitute prohibited political activity under the Hatch Act.”
If you want to take a look at some of these violations, you can view some of the statements made on the counsel’s letter.
Have other people violated the Hatch Act?
Over the years, the counsel has invoked the Hatch Act a number of times. As the New York Times writes, the Office of Special Counsel ruled that the Office of Political Affairs, serving under George W. Bush, had violated the Hatch Act for setting up appearances of cabinet members at rallies for Republican candidates during the 2006 midterm elections. The counsel also ruled that two officials serving under Obama (including current presidential candidate Julián Castro) violated the Hatch Act.
During Trump’s Administration, the counsel has also already invoked the Hatch Act in declaring that Dan Scavino Jr., the White House Director of Social Media, had committed a violation by a making remark aimed at Michigan congressmember Justin Amash’s reelection.
“@realDonaldTrump is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan. @justinamash is a big liability,” he wrote on Twitter in 2017. “#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary.” In each of these instances, the official was given notice by the OSC, though never removed from their position.
But keep in mind, many of these violations are the result of a single remark. Conway has knowingly violated the act and repeatedly committed such violations.
What could happen?
In theory, she could be fired—but that’s unlikely, as it’s often up to the President to decide. In March 2018 and April 2019, the Office of Special Counsel had already issued two separate reports to President Trump arguing that Conway had violated the Hatch Act.
What has been President Trump’s response?
“No, I’m not going to fire her,” he told Fox News today.
What has been Conway’s response?
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