WASHINGTON (CN) – Defying a congressional subpoena, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway refused for the second time Monday to attend a House Oversight Committee hearing on her violations of a federal law limiting the political activities of federal employees.
The independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued a recommendation to the White House on June 13 that President Donald Trump fire his close aide for continuing to disregard the Hatch Act by politicizing her office.
Trump shot down the agency’s call for discipline, arguing Conway is a loyal person with the right to express herself.
Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the White House Counsel’s Office sent a letter less than half an hour before Monday’s hearing, arguing Conway is immune from testifying before Congress.
“That is a completely baseless claim,” Cummings said. “Our committee has heard testimony from many White House officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement released shortly after the committee adjourned that immunity for staff like Conway ensures the president can effectively execute responsibilities.
She called committee Democrats’ actions part of an ongoing political campaign to harass Trump and his closest political advisors.
“Democrats continue to overreach and politicize the Office of Special Counsel – this time, by trying to silence Kellyanne Conway with ill-founded, phony allegations about the Hatch Act,” Grisham said. “The Committee clearly knows that under long-standing, bipartisan precedent founded in the Constitution, a President’s senior advisers cannot be compelled to appear before Congress.”
Cummings argued the committee was only asking Conway to account for her multiple violations of federal law that he said compromised public confidence in the government.
“This is bigger than just the Hatch Act or any other law,” he said. “This is about holding our government to the highest standard and not allowing individuals appointed by the president to be given special treatment when they flagrantly violate the law.”
More than 2 million federal employees find no issue complying with the Hatch Act each hour of their working day, Cummings said, adding that the committee will hold a meeting on July 25 to vote on whether to hold Conway in contempt of Congress.
The committee voted on party lines June 26 to subpoena Conway to testify, after she failed to voluntarily appear before the committee.
Henry Kerner, the Office of Special Counsel staff who made the recommendation that Trump remove Conway from public office, testified that same day.
He said the watchdog agency had never seen a repeat offender.
“She pivoted, sometimes completely unprompted, to attacking the Democratic candidates personally,” Kerner said. “Those statements are not facts. They are campaign rhetoric.”
A Trump appointee, Kerner worked as a Republican staffer on the House Oversight Committee under previous administrations.
“He’s not partisan. He’s not some wild-eyed liberal. He’s doing his job,” Congressman Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said in the June hearing.
Ranking Republican member Jim Jordan of Ohio said Monday his Democrat colleagues were targeting Conway.
“I don’t think anyone is surprised that Ms. Conway decided to spend her afternoon doing her job on behalf of the American taxpayer rather than subjecting herself to a classic Washington political theater committee hearing,” he said.
In June, Conway appeared on a “Fox and Friends” interview instead of testifying in the hearing where Cummings said the White House had gone on the offensive by arguing the Hatch Act does not apply to her.
“We wanted to hear from her directly,” Cummings said at the time. “She is a public official, who we pay by the way, who has been accused of wrongdoing and she refused to explain herself.”