WASHINGTON (CN) — After a federal watchdog agency recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be fired for politicizing her office, President Donald Trump pushed back Friday, saying he would keep Conway on.
“It looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech, and that’s just not fair,” Trump said in a call this morning to the “Fox and Friends” news program on his 73rd birthday.
“She’s got to have the right of responding to questions,” Trump added.
Trump’s hour-long interview came one day after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel determined that Conway was a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, which restricts White House employees from certain political activity including commenting on elections.
Unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which was tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the OSC is run by Trump-appointed lawyer Henry Kerner.
Pointing to Conway’s repeated disparaging of Democratic political candidates in television interviews and on social media, Kerner recommended that she be removed from federal service.
“Congress intended to promote public confidence in the executive branch by ensuring the federal government is working for all Americans without regard to their political views,” the report states.
Kerner referred the possibility of disciplining Conway to the president, and Trump told “Fox and Friends” this morning that he would not fire her. He was less direct when asked if he would speak to Conway regarding her unusual opining.
“It does not work that way,” he said, going on to mention Conway’s recent criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
“He criticized me and we then criticized him, or she criticized him,” Trump said.
“A person wouldn’t be able to express themselves,” he added.
Kerner’s 11-page report took specific aim at Conway for using her platform as a Trump adviser to influence the December 2017 Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate, advocating for the defeat of Democratic candidate Doug Jones and expressing support for Republican Roy Moore.
“[Conway’s statements] impermissibly mixed official government business with political views,” the report states.
Moore’s campaign was marked by allegations of sexual assault from nine women brought forward a month before voters went to the poles.
Conway joined the Trump staff in 2016 as the third campaign manager on the trail. The president’s defense of Conway on Friday was not the first time Trump has been outspoken in supporting her.
“The president is obviously defending me,” she said in March in response to a fierce Twitter war that broke out between Trump and George Conway, her husband and a conservative lawyer.
“George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump tweeted in March 2019. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”
George Conway responded with more than two dozen tweets the same day that labeled the president as “nuts” and suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder.