White House Directs Conway Not to Testify Before House Panel

WASHINGTON — The White House is directing Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, to reject a request to testify before a House committee about her repeated violations of a federal ethics law that bars government officials from engaging in political activities at work, further escalating a standoff between Congress and the Trump administration over oversight requests.

In a letter sent on Monday night to Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, cited “longstanding precedent” in declining the invitation for Ms. Conway to appear before the committee.

“The precedent for members of the White House staff to decline invitations to testify before congressional committees has been consistently adhered to by administrations of both political parties,” Mr. Cipollone wrote, citing letters from former counsels to Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

The Oversight Committee is now preparing to subpoena Ms. Conway and will move to hold her in contempt if she does not comply, Mr. Cummings said. “We cannot have people disobeying the law. The president is not above the law, and nor is Ms. Conway above the law,” Mr. Cummings said. “There are many, many federal employees who are obedient with regard to the Hatch Act.”

[Read more: What is the Hatch Act, and has anyone ever been fired for violating it?]

The latest instance of stonewalling from the White House came a week after Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, declined to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee about her time working in the administration, following directions from the White House. The White House has also instructed its former top lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, to defy a subpoena to testify before congressional lawmakers.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” President Trump told reporters outside the White House in April. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

Ms. Conway was found this month to be a repeat violator of the Hatch Act by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency that enforces the law. That agency is not related to the office that was run by Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The agency recommended that Ms. Conway be fired for her repeat offenses, citing television appearances shot on the White House grounds in which she criticized candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. She accused Senator Elizabeth Warren of “lying” about her ethnicity and described Senator Bernie Sanders’s platform as “ideas that are terrible for America,” among other things.

Ms. Conway has been defiant in the face of the charges. “They 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,” Ms. Conway said on Monday in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”

Mr. Trump said this month that he had no intention of firing Ms. Conway. “It looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech, and that’s just not fair,” he said in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”

The Office of Special Counsel only makes recommendations and has no authority to force Mr. Trump to fire one of his longest-serving aides.

Enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act was meant to keep politics out of the federal workplace. The act made it illegal for officials to use their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

The act allows government officials to express their personal views on their own time. Administration officials like Ms. Conway, for instance, would be allowed to speak at campaign fund-raisers for candidates they support, if they do not advertise their appearances using their official government titles.

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