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Editorial: White House counselor Conway reflects administration’s contempt for democratic principles

  • Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway pauses while speaking to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)



Friday, June 14, 2019

There is no doubt White House counselor Kellyanne Conway should be dismissed from her position because of her repeated violations of a federal law that bars all federal workers from engaging in political activity during work time.

There also is no doubt that such a thing will never happen.

That’s because it is abundantly clear that in Donald Trump’s White House, the law is not the law, anyone can be above it, adhering to it is optional, and there is no punishment for breaking it.

There is no ambiguity in Conway’s case. She violated the Hatch Act, an 80-year-old statute originally passed to stop Democrats from using federal workers in political campaigns. Only the president and the vice president are exempt, and many workers have lost their positions for not respecting the line between a public job and political activity.

Conway did so egregiously and repeatedly, despite several warnings from the permanent U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (not to be confused with the counsels, like Robert Mueller, named to investigate specific incidents).

Its head, Henry Kerner, a lifelong Republican, was appointed by Trump. Kerner documented numerous occasions when Conway used her post to bolster Trump’s reelection campaign, denigrate Democratic presidential contenders, and advocate for or against candidates for other offices — all bright-line violations. Kerner, who does not have the authority to remove Conway, requested that Trump dismiss her.

After a May warning from Kerner, Conway said, “Blah, blah, blah. ... Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

The White House incorrectly cast Kerner’s request as an attempt to stifle Conway’s free speech. Both responses demonstrate a contempt for the law. Ten other administration officials have been warned about Hatch Act violations.

Separating governance from politics is essential to a functioning democracy. This administration’s disregard for that principle has rippled outward. During Trump visits to military facilities in Japan and Germany, service members wore patches with Trump’s likeness and the words “Make Aircrew Great Again,” sported actual “MAGA” campaign hats and hoisted a Trump campaign flag. Not only is this against military rules, it also undermines the military’s professionalism, which relies on its political neutrality.

The Conway controversy came the day after Trump demonstrated his own disdain for the law. The president told a TV interviewer that there is nothing wrong with accepting dirt on a political foe from a foreign government. In the context of Mueller’s findings about Russia helping Trump’s 2016 campaign, the remark was stunning if unsurprising. Worse, after his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, said the FBI should be contacted about such an offer, Trump said Wray was wrong.

Going to Washington to shake things up is one thing. Sneering at the law once there — by accepting emoluments from foreign governments, using the office for personal gain, defying lawful subpoenas, tolerating Hatch Act violations, and giving tacit permission to any campaign to accept help from a foreign adversary — is conduct unbefitting the president of the United States.