Despite President Trump’s claim in May that he’s the “most transparent president” in U.S. history, accountability hasn’t exactly been a priority for his administration, whether it’s his closing of the White House visitor logs, his refusal to release his tax returns, or the effective end of White House press briefings. Those are just the relatively innocuous examples: In the wake of the Mueller report, Trump has derailed House-committee efforts to follow the thread of the special-counsel investigations, blocking his staffers from giving testimony.
Now comes the report that the White House intends to block counselor Kellyanne Conway from testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. According to two officials who spoke to the Washington Post, the White House counsel has advised Conway not to show up for her scheduled testimony on her alleged violations of the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits staffers in the Executive branch from publicly endorsing candidates or elected officials.
The Office of Special Counsel, a permanent, independent investigative agency unrelated to the team led by Robert Mueller, determined that Conway had violated the act in interviews and on Twitter — including her support on cable news of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in 2017, who was accused of sexually assaulting underage girls. More recent violations of the Hatch Act include accusing Elizabeth Warren of “lying” about her ethnicity and calling Bernie Sanders’s platform “ideas that are terrible for America” while speaking in her official capacity as White House counselor. “Her defiant attitude is inimical to the law, and her continued pattern of misconduct is unacceptable,” the OSC wrote, recommending that Trump terminate Conway’s federal employment.
The White House has justified responding to a call to explain an ethics violation with a no-show with its usual claim that West Wing staff do not have to testify before Congress. Prepared for this result, the House Oversight Committee plans to vote Wednesday to subpoena Conway if she skips the hearing. But getting a Trump staffer to comply with a House subpoena — or answer questions once they’re in the room — is its own challenge.
During a Monday appearance on Fox News, Conway defended her conduct, claiming that the president’s political opponents “want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth because I helped as a campaign manager for the successful part of the campaign . . . So they want to chill free speech because they don’t know how to beat [Trump] at the ballot box.” Considering that Conway has been dealing with Hatch violations for two years, it’s likely that this claim of “free speech” is a voluntary misunderstanding: It’s not the specific language she used that broke the law, it’s that, as an Executive staffer, she is barred from taking any part in political campaigns.