White House senior economic adviser Gary Cohn is the latest to join the revolving door of Donald Trump appointees who are running for (or being pushed toward) the exits. One name we’d love to add to that list is Kellyanne Conway.
Conway, the senior adviser who loves to brag that she’s been offered the post of communications director “many times,” was found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, the law that forbids officials in the executive branch to campaign as a part of their official duties. This latest violation was in reference to appearances on (where else) Fox News, during which she advocated for the election of Alabama Republican and shopping-mall exile Roy Moore to the Senate.
The White House Office of Special Counsel found that she overstepped the bounds of the Hatch Act. Not that anything will happen to @KellyannePolls, who remains one of Trump’s staunchest backers and can always be counted on to lie in the face (remember her “alternative facts” claims?) of any cable TV interviewer.
Nope, she’s still hanging around. According to a report from The Washington Post:
The OSC’s letter to Trump read: “In passing this law, 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. Ms. Conway’s statements during the Fox & Friends and New Day interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”
The punishment for the violation was left to the White House, which wasted little time making clear that there wouldn’t be any punishment.
“Public confidence in the Executive branch.” There’s an oxymoron in the time of Trump. With chartered jets, first-class air travel, $31,000 dining room sets, and $139,000 doors, there’s no reason for confidence anywhere. That doesn’t even include the guilty pleas and indictments of Trump officials that are being racked up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So far.
Conway, of course, had been found in violation of ethics rules before when she became a shill for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. Nothing happened to her then, either. Nor did anything happen to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he promoted one of his own private ventures, The LEGO Batman movie.
Which brings us to the question: How egregious does an offense have to be to get fired from this White House? Because there’s a long list of guilty parties, and most of them are still hanging around.
The Hatch Act, also called “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” was passed in 1939 in response to charges that some Democrats had used jobs in the Works Progress Administration as rewards, also having those in WPA jobs as campaign workers. The law was named for its sponsor, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Carl Hatch.
Full disclosure: Our daughter actually worked for the Obama White House for six years, albeit in a lower-level capacity. But she had to undergo a rigorous security clearance, with FBI agents visiting our neighbors (she was not long out of college) to find out information about her. Neighbors jokingly asked us if she was signing up to work for the CIA.
But when it came to the Hatch Act, there was no question about the delineation of roles. Every employee was told in no uncertain terms: You. Do. Not. Campaign. As. Part. Of. Your. Official. Job. Every employee attended a mandatory reminder session every year. No political phone calls from White House phones. No email from government computers. The list of advisory rules went on and on.
Of course, that was then, under President Obama, who obviously thought that laws applied to him and to those his administration hired. During the Trump years, there apparently are no rules.
Some complain that the Hatch Act is outmoded in today’s world, especially in an age of constant TV presence and social media. Maybe that’s true. But it’s still the law.
The WaPo piece adds that two other administration officials also were found to have violated the Hatch Act in some of their tweets backing or attacking certain candidates: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and social media director Dan Scavino. Apparently nothing happened to them, either.
Now that Trump has officially launched his re-election campaign, the White House Office of Special Counsel took the step of issuing new guidance:
“For example, while on duty or in the workplace,” the guidelines read, “employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns; use hashtags such as #MAGA or #ResistTrump in social media posts or other forums; or display non-official pictures of President Trump.”
HA! Yeah, like that will stop any Trump appointee from doing any of those things. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will probably wear a red “Keep America Great” hat while holding the press briefings.
Columnist Jennifer Rubin, also writing in The Washington Post, makes the point that Trumpland stopped worrying about following any rules from Day One.
The expectation of compliance with the law and concern about the appearance of impropriety are entirely absent from this administration for one very simple reason: Trump has set the standard and the example. Don’t bother with the rules. If caught, just make up stuff. …
The brazenness with which this administration tramples rules designed to prevent both corruption and the misuse of taxpayers’ money for personal or political purposes should not surprise, but it should draw our condemnation. Congress has encouraged this lawlessness by failing in its fundamental duty of oversight and in failing to beef up ethics rules.
Going forward, no president should be able to withhold release of his tax returns, or maintain control of active businesses. No president should allow his unqualified family members to hold high government posts — especially when they cannot even qualify for a security clearance. No president should be allowed to enrich himself while in office. (It is bad enough that they do it after they leave office.)
We won’t be holding our collective breaths waiting for any of that.
Son-in-law Jared Kushner, who incredulously still has a job as Trump’s senior adviser despite the yanking of his “temporary” top security clearance, is now said to have a security clearance lower than the White House calligrapher.
But let’s give the calligrapher a pass. The calligrapher, Patricia Blair, has been in that office for many years and has served three presidents. The only reason she has any security clearance at all is that she needs access to the president’s schedule to ensure the accuracy of invitations.
So at least when it comes to beautiful handwriting, maybe the White House has some standards after all.