Americans like to think that the law applies to everyone. If a criminal act is committed, a person should be appropriately punished regardless of who they are. These laws are on the books for a reason. Lawbreakers of any stature have no choice but to answer to justice. Either that, or they can just work for the president.
On Tuesday, the Office of the Special Counsel (not Robert Mueller) issued a report saying that White House aide Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act. Last year during the captivating Alabama special election, Conway broke the law (twice) by “advocating for and against candidates.” The longtime Trump employee championed for alleged child molester Roy Moore on both CNN and Fox News, while denigrating his opponent Doug Jones.
Conway isn’t the first Trump associate to face official criticism over violating the Hatch Act. She is the latest rule breaker to join the not-so-exclusive club that also contains White House social media director Dan Scavino and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, both of whom have already been warned for political activity from their official social media accounts.
It also isn’t the first time Conway has been in hot water for abusing her White House position for political or personal gain. At this point, she is a repeat offender with seemingly no regard for the laws that are set up to prohibit federal employees from doing exactly what she’s doing. The OSC’s report says that Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views” in regard to her television appearances before the special election. Make no mistake about it: Kellyanne Conway has been found guilty of breaking federal law. Somehow, it won’t matter.
The OSC is referring to President Trump, Conway’s boss, to determine what becomes of her. The president has the power to choose whether to suspend, fine, terminate, or even debar Conway from federal employment over the next five years. He can also choose to do nothing. The smart money is on the latter.
Given Trump’s natural proclivity to do nothing and his complete disregard for the law (as Mueller will soon attest), this should come as no surprise. The White House has already pushed back on the report, issuing a statement that basically refutes everything the Hatch Act stands for.
Advocating for and/or fighting against certain candidates is the very definition of political speech. The White House claims that Conway wasn’t advocating “against the election of any particular candidate,” yet she repeatedly used words like “weak” and “terrible” to describe Doug Jones’s stance on certain issues. Do words like “weak” and “terrible” sound impartial to anyone?
It is clear that the well-known aide used her official authority to attack a candidate and promote another in hopes of influencing the election not once, but twice. The OSC concluded this and now Conway’s punishment (or lack thereof) will be handed down by Trump. If the White House statement is any indication, Conway will be back on television in no time. She will still be employed by the federal government, she will face no fines, and most likely won’t even be reprimanded.
Even a symbolic slap on the wrist would be too much for someone on Trump’s staff. Instead, they will continue to get away with their crimes so long as President Golfs-a-Lot is in power. By dismissing the OSC’s findings, the White House is rendering the Hatch Act and all ethical laws virtually meaningless.
It’s easy to think that this is the new norm for America, but it’s not. Eventually, this presidency will end and things will return back to normal. In fact, it may all happen sooner rather than later.
Photo: Mike Segar / Reuters