The Trump-appointed ethics official who called for Kellyanne Conway’s firing last week is set to defend that decision in congressional testimony on Wednesday.
Henry Kerner, the chief of the White House’s Office of Special Counsel, has submitted testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in which he criticizes Conway for allegedly breaking the law by politicizing her post as White House Counselor.
“Her conduct hurts both federal employees, who may believe that senior officials can act with complete disregard for the Hatch Act, and the American people, who may question the nonpartisan operation of their government,” reads Kerner’s testimony, which The Daily Beast obtained.
“Ms. Conway’s conduct reflects not a misunderstanding of the law, but rather a disregard for it,” the testimony adds.
Kerner’s plan to appear at the hearing, which was confirmed by a senior Democratic committee aide, is a significant move, given that a host of administration officials have recently stiff-armed congressional testimony requests and subpoenas. The committee invited Conway as well, and plans to subpoena her if she does not appear, per Politico.
On June 13, Kerner’s office called on President Donald Trump to fire Conway for violating the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits government employees for doing political work while on the job. Kerner’s report charges that Conway repeatedly broke this law by publicly criticizing Democratic 2020 contenders in her capacity as a senior White House official.
“The most recent report was the result of a months-long investigation that included substantial communication with the White House,” Kerner wrote in his testimony. “OSC repeatedly offered Ms. Conway the opportunity to come into compliance with the law. She refused to do so. In fact, the frequency of her Hatch Act violations only increased.”
Conway defended herself from the allegations Monday morning on Fox and Friends, saying the criticism was part of an effort to chill free speech and constrain her First Amendment rights. White House spokesperson Steve Groves defended her as well after the report came out, saying the Hatch Act rules were “unclear and unevenly applied,” and violated “her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”
And White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, in a detailed letter to Kerner sent June 11, defended Conway as well, saying that Kerner’s office “abused its discretion by issuing a Report tainted by inappropriate external influences,” and that his call for her removal was “as outrageous as it is unprecedented.”
According to the testimony he submitted to the committee, Kerner sent his report to the White House on May 29 and then gave Conway extensions in her deadline to respond.
“However, after two weeks had passed, it became clear that Ms. Conway was not planning to respond,” the testimony reads. “Accordingly, we referred the report to the President on June 13 based upon Ms. Conway’s egregious, repeated, and very public violations of the law.”
“I hold no personal animus toward Ms. Conway,” Kerner continues. “My actions and decisions related to OSC’s reports were motivated solely by my duty to oversee enforcement of the Hatch Act and counter the obvious harms caused by Ms. Conway’s violations. Such harms include the false message her conduct sent to other federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act or that senior officials are above the law.”
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.