EDITORIAL: A White House above the law

York Dispatch Editorial Board
In this April 30, 2019 photo, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks with reporters outside the White House in Washington. A federal watchdog is recommending that President Donald Trump remove counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal service for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act by repeatedly disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Not that another example was necessary, but the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for the rule of law was magnified anew by its response — or, rather, non-response — to violations of the federal Hatch Act by White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

Conway, one of President Donald Trump’s longest-serving and most reliable defenders, has frequently run afoul of this law, which was passed in 1939 to limit “certain political activities of federal employees.”

Among her transgressions: Using her high-profile (if ill-defined) position to repeatedly endorse political candidates, disparage Democrats and shill for the clothing line of Ivanka Trump (another high-profile White House fixture whose role is ill-defined).

Such are the number and seriousness of the violations that the federal Office of Special Counsel advised Trump that she should be fired.

“Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” the office — which is unaffiliated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s now-shuttered office — wrote in a letter to Trump. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

To which Trump responded, and we’re paraphrasing, “the rule of what now?”

"No, I'm not going to fire her,” the president said on his favorite television show, “Fox and Friends.” “I think she's a terrific person.”

In the real world, of course, Conway’s alleged terrificness would have nothing to do with her lawlessness. But in Trumpworld, the boss’s opinion is all that matters.

One can violate fellow citizens’ civil rights, be credibly charged as a predator of underage women, even meddle in this nation’s presidential elections but as long as Trump thinks you’re terrific you’ll be pardoned, endorsed and embraced.

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect a lawless and unethical president to reprimand, let alone fire, a lawless and unethical subordinate. Trump’s disregard for — or, just as likely, ignorance of — the law is such that Conway will probably get a raise.

Recall, Conway’s Office of Special Counsel rebuke came concurrently with Trump’s insistence in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulus that, were he offered dirt on a political opponent from Russia, China or any other foreign interest, he wouldn’t necessarily alert the FBI.

That’s not only dim-witted and un-American, it’s illegal.

The head of the Federal Elections Commission lost no time in publicly setting Trump straight.

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub wrote on Twitter. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”

Illegality? Not a novel concept? She doesn’t know this administration very well, does she?

Trump’s near constant abuse of his office to enrich himself (via taxpayer-funded trips to his resort properties) and his allies (incessant Twitter messages encouraging his followers to tune in to “Fox” programming or buy Trump-friendly books) are prima facie violations that deserve, at the least, congressional censure. (Fat chance, of course, with complacent and compliant Republicans running the Senate.)

There was some irony in the fact that, just hours after the Office of Special Counsel recommended Conway’s dismissal, Trump did indeed lose a long-serving, reliable mouthpiece:

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Like Conway, Sanders seldom left any truth unbent in service to her boss. Unlike Conway, she grew increasingly averse to the media cameras. White House press briefings were once daily occurrences. Sanders hasn’t held one in more than 100 days.

So as Sanders leaves a stage she was increasingly unwilling to occupy, Conway stays on: a law-flouting adviser dissembling — on the taxpayers’ dime — for her law-flouting boss.

Republicans once touted themselves as the “rule of law party.” How far they have fallen.