Watchdog: Kellyanne Conway broke law on promoting politics

In a letter to President Trump, Special Counsel Henry Kerner said Conway "impermissibly mixed official government business with political views."

WASHINGTON — Top White House aide Kellyanne Conway last year violated a law that bars federal employees from using their official positions to engage in politics, the Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday.

In a letter to President Trump, Special Counsel Henry Kerner said Conway "impermissibly mixed official government business with political views" when she gave television interviews on CNN and Fox late last year, taking sides in Alabama's special election for the Senate.

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In his letter, Kerner said Trump should consider "appropriate disciplinary action."

It's not clear whether Trump will take any action against Conway, a close adviser who helped manage his 2016 presidential campaign and has survived tumultuous staff changes at the White House.

This is not the first time Conway's comments have run afoul of a government watchdog. In February 2017, less than a month into the new administration, the government's top ethics official recommended disciplinary action for Conway after she told television viewers to "go buy" clothes from Ivanka Trump's fashion line. In that case, White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino said he met with Conway and she pledged to follow ethics rules in the future.

White House officials did not immediately respond to a USA TODAY request Tuesday for comment on the special counsel's findings about the Alabama Senate race. (The Office of Special Counsel is a standing, investigative arm of the federal government and its work is unrelated to that for special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to examine Russian interference in the 2016 election.)

In its 10-page report, the special counsel's office said Conway never responded to investigators' questions. Instead, according to the report, the White House provided "brief explanations" about her conduct and contended that part of Conway's job was to provide "commentary" about the president's positions in the Senate race and how the outcome might affect his agenda in Washington.

The special counsel officials rejected that argument, saying that Conway went beyond commentary in the interviews and violated a federal law, known as the Hatch Act. The law restricts federal employees from using their jobs to influence elections.

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In one instance, during a Nov. 20 interview on Fox and Friends on the administration's tax plan, Conway "volunteered a comment" about Democrat Doug Jones and the Alabama election, investigators said.

"Folks don't be fooled," Conway said of Jones. "He'll be a vote against tax cuts. He's weak on crime, weak on borders. He's strong on raising your taxes."

Jones went on to win the Alabama race, amid allegations that his Republican opponent Roy Moore engaged in sexual misconduct with teen girls when he was in his 30s.