Donald Trump has said he will not fire White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, despite a US government oversight agency saying she should be dismissed for engaging in banned political activity while in office.
Ms Conway has violated the Hatch Act “on numerous occasions”, according to the independent Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
The act bans federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work. The OSC said failure to punish her violations will send a message to other federal employees they need not abide by the act’s rules and restrictions.
The repeated violations cited by the OSC relate to several comments made by Ms Conway during the 2017 Alabama special Senate election.
The US Office of Special Counsel said Ms Conway had violated the act by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
In the election, Democratic candidate Doug Jones defeated Republican candidate Roy Moore by a 21,924 votes – a 1.7 per cent margin. Mr Jones is the first Democrat to win a US Senate seat in Alabama since 1992.
Speaking to Fox News on Friday about the OSC’s recommendation Ms Conway should be fired, Mr Trump said: “Well I got briefed on it yesterday, and it looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech, and that’s just not fair.”
He added: “No, I’m not going to fire her,”
Ms Conway was "a terrific person" and "tremendous spokeswoman," he said. "She’s been loyal, she’s just a great person.”
Mr Trump said Ms Conway’s remarks had merely been the result of her being asked questions by interviewers during the election.
“You ask a person a question, and every time you’re supposed to say, ‘I can’t answer, I can’t answer?” Mr Trump said. “She’s got to have the right of responding to questions.”
In the OSC’s statement about its judgement of Ms Conway’s behaviour, it said: “Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system – the rule of law.”
The agency also detailed an episode in which Ms Conway appeared to knowingly choose to disregard the restrictions of the Hatch Act.
According to the OSC, she said: “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”.
The president is the only figure with the power to heed the official advice and fire the White House counsellor.