White House says Kellyanne Conway won't testify at House hearing on Hatch Act violations

William Cummings

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway will not testify at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on allegations she violated the Hatch Act, the White House informed the committee on Monday. 

"In accordance with long-standing precedent, we respectfully decline the invitation to make Mrs. Conway available for testimony before the Committee," White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

The refusal sets up another battle between the executive and legislative branches of government. Since Democrats took control of the House in January, several current and former members of the Trump administration have refused to testify or comply with subpoenas in the various House committee investigations. Those committees have responded with threats of contempt and legal action. 

The Oversight committee said in a memorandum last week that if Conway does not appear at the hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Cummings will subpoena her. Cummings told CNN on Monday that Conway would be held in contempt if she refused to comply with the subpoena. 

Conway: All the times Kellyanne Conway ran afoul of a federal watchdog over the Hatch Act

"We cannot have people disobeying the law. The president is not above the law and nor is Ms. Conway above the law," Cummings said, according to CNN. 

The Hatch Act is a 1939 law that restricts federal employees' engagement in specific partisan political activities, with the aim of preventing members of the executive branch from interfering in elections. 

This month, the Office of Special Counsel found that Conway was a "repeat offender" who had committed "egregious, notorious and ongoing" Hatch Act violations by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates. The Office of Special Counsel recommended the president fire her. Trump said he would not

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The Office of Special Counsel – which is not connected to Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference – said that Conway's "persistent, notorious and deliberate Hatch Act violations have created an unprecedented challenge to this office’s ability to enforce the Act, as we are statutorily charged." 

Trump ignored the recommendation and said during an interview on "Fox & Friends" that "they’re trying to take away her right of free speech and that's just not fair." 

"No, I’m not going to fire her. I think she’s a terrific person," Trump said. "She’s been loyal."

When asked about Cummings' threat of a subpoena during a "Fox & Friends" interview on Monday, Conway argued that it's not clear "that the Hatch Act applies to assistants to the president" and contested the assertion that she had spoken out against Democratic candidates. 

Trump won't fire Kellyanne Conway: President defends counselor's words as 'free speech'

"If I'm quoting what some of the candidates say about the other candidates, I'm just repeating the news to you as I read it that day," she said. 

"They want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth," because she is an effective campaigner for Trump, she said. 

"This is my First Amendment right. So they want to chill free speech because they don't know how to beat him at the ballot box." 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House says Kellyanne Conway won't testify at House hearing on Hatch Act violations