WASHINGTON (CN) – The former director of the Office of Government Ethics filed a complaint against White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday for comments she made about the Alabama Senate race.
Walter Shaub took to Twitter to announce the filing with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, to suggest Conway could have violated a law that forbids federal employees from using their positions for political purposes.
“She’s standing in front of the White House. It seems pretty clear she was appearing in her official capacity when she advocated against a candidate,” Shaub tweeted.
Shaub’s ire was raised when Conway appeared in a Fox News interview this week. When the host of the network's "Fox & Friends" asked Conway who Alabamans should vote for, she responded:
“Folks don’t be fooled. He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners," she said of the Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
"And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he’s not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him,” Conway added.
“I just want everybody to know Doug Jones, nobody ever says his name, and they pretend that he’s some kind of conservative Democrat in Alabama and he’s not,” she continued.
Her comments, Shaub says, are a violation of the Hatch Act which forbids federal employees from getting involved in or attempting to engage in political activity that could influence an election.
Conway responded to Shaub on Twitter and defended her statements saying they merely echoed what President Donald Trump has said about Jones.
“I addressed Doug Jones,” she said. “I did not address Roy Moore. Let Alabama choose its representatives.”
Shaub resigned from his post in July and has been openly critical of both the president directly and the administration as a whole.
In a CBS News interview with Julianna Goldman after his resignation, he told the anchor he wasn’t sure if the Trump family would use the White House to enrich themselves.
While he “can’t know what their intention is,” he emphasized the importance of appearances.
"I know that the effect is that there's an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency," Shaub said in the interview. "And appearance matters as much as reality. So even aside from whether or not that's actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we've always had."
Shaub also posted a July 2016 letter on his Twitter account which he believes supports his allegation. The letter was to then President Barack Obama and stated Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Hurban Development, violated the Hatch Act for “advocating for and against Presidential candidates while giving a media interview.”
On Twitter, Shaub wondered if Conway had identified herself by her White House title during her appearance on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" program.
Another White House alum, Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, supports Shaub’s position.
“This is an official interview. She has violated the Hatch Act by using her position to take sides in a partisan election. That is a firing offense. And for her this is strike two,” Painter tweeted Wednesday morning.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog based in Washington, said Conway’s comments on air should be considered a violation.
“Based off the facts here, and based on history – this isn’t the first time someone in the Trump administration has had a complaint submitted to the Office of Special Counsel … at some point, the office and other ethics officials need to stop with the warning labels and start applying the law,” Amey said.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley ran afoul of the office in June when it claimed she violated the act by sharing a tweet from Trump endorsing South Carolina congressional candidate, Ralph Norman.
Haley retweeted the message from her personal account but deleted it immediately. The agency cleared Haley, saying her quick action to resolve the issue proved there was no impropriety.
How things will play out for Conway will be “interesting to see,” Amey said, especially since the White House advisor has skirted ethical trouble before, namely her public endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s product line at Nordstrom’s.
Standing in the White House press briefing room, with White House insignia clearly visible, Conway told Fox in the February interview, “Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would say. I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today. Everybody. You can find it online."
Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, another nonprofit watchdog, said Wednesday that the “law is clear on using your official title to influence electoral politics.”
“Conway knows the rules because she’s broken them before. Now she’s a repeat offender. Conway should be counseled again, on how corrosive this behavior is, and fired if she continues,” Evers said.
Neither Shaub nor the U.S. Office of Special Counsel immediately responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.