By Jan Wolfe, Reuters /Washington
The US House of Representatives Oversight Committee yesterday voted 25-16 to subpoena testimony from White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway after she failed to appear at a hearing about her alleged violations of the Hatch Act, a law that limits federal employees’ political activity.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a US government watchdog agency, earlier this month recommended Conway be fired for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.
Consistent with a pattern of stonewalling numerous congressional investigations of President Donald Trump, his administration and business interests, the White House has asserted that Conway did not need to testify to the committee.
Henry Kerner, who runs the Office of Special Counsel, said at the committee hearing that Conway left him “no choice” but to recommend her termination because she has committed “at least 10 separate Hatch Act violations, expressed no remorse and continues to express disdain” for the law.
Kerner is a Trump appointee who previously worked for Republican lawmakers in Congress.
His office is an independent agency that enforces the Hatch Act.
It is not connected to the office of former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“Here, we have a clear-cut case of a federal employee violating federal law over and over and over again...and we have the White House asserting that Congress may not question this employee,” said Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee’s chairman.
“This is the opposite of accountability, and it is contrary to our fundamental system of laws in this country.”
Representative Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, said Democrats were seeking to limit Conway’s free speech rights because they disagreed with her views and because she has been an effective advocate for the president’s agenda.
Some Democratic lawmakers said at the hearing that their Republican colleagues were letting their loyalty to Trump interfere with upholding the rule of law.
“He’s not a partisan. He’s not some wild-eyed liberal. He’s doing his job,” Representative Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, said of Kerner.
Kerner testified that his concerns about Conway could also be addressed by her formally becoming an adviser to Trump’s re-election campaign, rather than a White House employee.
Kerner’s report on June 13 criticised Conway for a “pattern of partisan attacks” on Democrats running for president, including a media interview where she insinuated that Senator Cory Booker was “sexist.”
An earlier OSC report from March 2018 cited Conway for favouring a Republican candidate over a Democrat in an interview discussing a special Senate election in Alabama in 2017.
The White House said she was only expressing Trump’s preference.
In a June 11 letter, the top White House lawyer said the OSC has adopted an “overbroad and unsupported interpretation of the Hatch Act,” that chills the free speech rights of US government employees.
The White House’s letter also accused Kerner’s team of bias against Conway, saying they recommended her termination because they felt disrespected by public comments she made about the OSC.
The OSC can make such recommendations, but does not have the authority to enforce them.
Trump accuses ‘terrible’ Twitter of censoring conservatives
President Donald Trump yesterday accused Twitter of censoring him, alleging the social media platform was making it hard for him to get his message out.
“They are trying to rig the election,” Trump said in an interview on Fox Business News. Accusing the tech company of bias toward Democrats and “hatred” of Republicans, he said lawsuits or legislation were needed to check its power.
Twitter and other social media firms have been facing pressure to curb hate speech and extremist propaganda, blocking accounts of many conspiracy theorists.
But Trump and his allies contend that the purge has also silenced conservative voices.
Trump has 61mn Twitter followers and has used the platform as a powerful political instrument, but he complained bitterly that his message was being blocked.
“What they did to me on Twitter is incredible,” Trump said. “I have millions and millions of followers, but I will tell you they make it very hard for people to join me on Twitter, and they make it very hard for me to get out the message.”
The president accused Twitter of being “just terrible what they do” and said he would get fairer treatment if he became a Democrat.
“They don’t let you get the word out. I’ve had so many people come to me, Sir, I can’t get you on Twitter,” he added.
Asked what should be done about it, Trump responded: “You may need legislation in order to create competition.”
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