President Donald Trump defended senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Friday after an independent federal watchdog said she should be fired for repeatedly violating a law prohibiting government employees from political campaigning.
“It looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech and that’s just not fair,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” “It really sounds to me like a free speech thing. It doesn’t sound fair.”
The Office of Special Counsel, which is different from the Justice Department office once operated by Robert Mueller, sent a report to Trump on Thursday outlining numerous occasions in which Conway violated the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity on TV and in social media.
Trump’s defense of his aide followed a White House statement attacking the Office of Special Counsel and accusing the agency of attempting to “weaponize” the Hatch Act and violate Conway’s “constitutional rights.”
The Supreme Court has long upheld the constitutionality of the Hatch Act, enacted in 1939.
When asked directly if he would follow the recommendation that Conway be removed from federal service, Trump said he would not.
“No, I’m not going to fire her,” he said. “I think she’s a terrific person. She’s a tremendous spokesperson.”
Trump added that he wouldn’t admonish Conway to stop criticizing other presidential candidates, telling host Brian Kilmeade, “It doesn’t work that way.”
“Biden was one of the people that she was accused of criticizing, but he criticized me, and we then criticized him, or she criticized him,” Trump said, referring to 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, but not White House staffers like Conway.
The Office of Special Counsel report says that Conway, in her official capacity as a federal employee, “engaged in a pattern of partisan attacks on several Democratic Party candidates shortly after they announced their candidacy for President.”
The office also concluded in a report in March that Conway had unlawfully advocated for and against Senate candidates during the 2017 Alabama election. The latest report cites Conway’s remarks in an interview last month mocking the law.
“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” Conway said in the interview. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
The Hatch Act has no criminal penalties. But if Conway’s violations go unpunished, the report says, it “would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions”
Trump said he’s going to get “a very strong briefing” on the report. “I’ll see, but it seems to me to be very unfair.”