Watchdog Calls for Kellyanne Conway Sanctions Over Alleged Ethics Lapse

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint Thursday against senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway urging the Office of Special Counsel to suspend or remove her from her post as counselor to President Trump for alleged ethics violations.

The nonpartisan watchdog claims that during a Dec. 6 interview on CNN, Conway violated the Hatch Act by urging Alabama voters to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in a special election to fill the Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

According to the complaint, Conway was introduced in her official capacity, and spent several minutes speaking about tax reform and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

During the interview, which was done in front of the White House, Conway also urged voters to vote for Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by nine women.

It is the second complaint the Campaign Legal Center has filed in recent weeks.

The watchdog filed its first complaint against Conway on Nov. 22 expressing similar concerns that she had violated the Hatch Act during a television interview on “Fox and Friends” on Nov. 20 by urging the defeat of Jones.

The White House did not respond to an email seeking comment on the complaint.

The Hatch Act prohibits covered federal employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

Although the president and vice president are excluded, the law covers executive agency employees as well as White House aides, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Campaign Legal Center spokesperson Corey Goldstone said the organization has worked to uphold laws and norms that have guided both Republican and Democratic administrations for dozens of years.

He said it’s rare for the organization to call for the dismissal or unpaid suspension of a government employee, but that the group decided to take action because Conway has faced allegations of ethics violations in the past.

In February, Conway drew scrutiny for promoting the clothing line of President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, during an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

“What we’re seeing is like a willful attempt to avoid compliance with the rules and norms,” Goldstone said in a phone interview.

The ethics complaint, which was signed by former ethics chief Walter Shaub who resigned in July to join the Campaign Legal Center, urged the Office of Special Counsel to take strong action.

“The willfulness of this violation and Ms. Conway’s openly expressed disdain for attempts to hold her accountable now make clear that any disciplinary action short of removal from the federal service or a lengthy unpaid suspension will not deter future misconduct by this senior official,” the complaint states.

According to Goldstone, failure to discipline Conway would send a message that people in the president’s inner circle are exempt from following the law.

“It’s very important that this law is taken seriously by people in the administration, and if nothing happens, its sending the wrong message,” Goldstone said.

Contrary to both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, which clearly demonstrated motivation to comply with ethics requirements, Goldstone said the Trump administration is not showing the same level of commitment.

“Instead, compliance with pretty basic requirements is a struggle,” he said.

Pointing to Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line as an example of that, Goldstone said Conway misunderstands her position.

“First of all, she’s violating ban to endorse products, which is the basic legal violation,” Goldstone said. “But more importantly, it’s breaking a promise with the American people that a high ranking government job is supposed to be for the purpose of actually benefiting the American people, not enhancing the bottom line of the president and his family.”

Goldstone said the Campaign Legal Center has received confirmation from the Office of Special Counsel that they received the complaint.

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