US watchdog calls for Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s removal

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A US government oversight agency has said White House aide Kellyanne Conway should be fired for engaging in banned political activities while in office.

The Office of Special Counsel said Mrs Conway violated the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from campaigning for candidates while on the job.

The watchdog cited “numerous occasions” in which she violated the law, calling her a “repeat offender”.

The White House dismissed the advice as “deeply flawed” and “unprecedented”.

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The allegations stem from statements Mrs Conway made on television during the 2017 Alabama special Senate election in which she advocated for and against certain individual candidates.

The president, vice-president and some other high level officials are not bound by the 1939 Hatch Act.

In a statement announcing the recommendation, the independent Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said that her “violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions.

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“Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system – the rule of law.”

The agency described one episode in which she appears to shrug off the Hatch Act, saying “if you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” and “let me know when the jail sentence starts”.

It is up to President Donald Trump whether or not to heed the recommendation and fire his former 2016 campaign manager.

The office is run by Henry Kern, who the president nominated for the role.

The White House rushed to defend Mrs Conway, calling the special counsel’s actions a violation of Mrs Conway’s rights to free speech.

“Others, of all political views, have objected to the OSC’s unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees,” said deputy White House press secretary Steven Groves in a statement to US media.

“Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organisations, and perhaps OSC should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, nonpolitical manner, and not misinterpret or weaponise the Hatch Act.”