WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Monday it will not allow presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway to appear before a House committee looking into allegations that she repeatedly violated a federal law that limits political activity by government workers.
The White House refusal, outlined in a letter from White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, sets up a possible subpoena fight with the House Oversight Committee, which is reviewing Conway's actions.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel's chairman, has said he will call for a vote on a subpoena for Conway if she fails to appear at a hearing Wednesday.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller's office, said earlier this month that Conway has been a "repeat offender" of the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.
Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but there are no exceptions for White House employees.
The agency does not have the authority to fire Conway, who was appointed by Trump, and Trump has said he will not fire Conway, one of his most unwavering defenders. Conway is known for her fiery television appearances in support of Trump and his policies. She helped him win election in 2016 as his campaign manager.
The recommendation to fire Conway is the first time the watchdog office has recommended the removal of a White House official over Hatch Act violations.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a June 13 letter to Trump that Conway's violations, "if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions. Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law."
Conway has dismissed reports of possible Hatch Act violations, saying critics were merely trying to silence her. Her critics "want to chill free speech because they don't know how to beat (Trump) at the ballot box," Conway said Monday.
She told "Fox & Friends" that Democrats and other critics "want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth because I helped, as a campaign manager ... the president and the vice president."
One of the ways she helped was by appearing on radio and TV, Conway said.
Cipollone said in his letter to Cummings that senior White House advisers are "absolutely immune" from the congressional testimonial process and have a right to refuse to appear before a congressional committee.