White House aide Kellyanne Conway broke federal ethics rules during two television interviews last year, the US government ethics agency said on Tuesday, as personnel difficulties within the Trump administration continued.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – a government ethics agency that has no connection with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation – told the US president Donald Trump that Ms Conway was in breach of ethics guidelines when she endorsed Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama special election last year.
Ms Conway, who is special counsellor to the president and managed his 2016 presidential election campaign, made comments denigrating the Democratic candidate in the Alabama election, Doug Jones, in interviews on Fox News and CNN in November.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners,” she said in a morning interview on Fox News.
Under the Hatch Act, government officials are prohibited from using their positions for partisan political purposes. According to the report released by the OSC, Ms Conway’s interviews “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for US Senate”.
It falls to the president to decide if Ms Conway should face disciplinary action.
Tuesday’s finding marks the second time that Ms Conway has been found guilty of ethics violations. Last year the Office of Government Ethics found she had broken ethics rules by endorsing Ivanka Trump’s fashion range during a TV interview.
The development came a day after former Trump aide Sam Nunberg claimed in a series of TV and newspaper interviews that he would refuse to comply with a subpoena request from Mr Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr Nunberg, who has already been interviewed by Mr Mueller’s team, took to the airwaves on Monday in a series of bizarre interviews during which he claimed he would defy requests for him to hand over emails and other documents to the investigation.
"Let him arrest me," he told the Washington Post, insisting that he would not comply with Mr Mueller's request, though by Tuesday, Mr Nunberg indicated that he would comply and cancelled a number of TV interviews.
Describing the Mueller investigation as a “witch-hunt”, Mr Nunberg nonetheless said he believed that Mr Mueller has concluded that Mr Trump “may have done something” illegal, based on the questions he had been asked during the interview.
Asked about his views on the disputed meeting on June 9th, 2016 in Trump Tower, at which Donald Trump jnr and others met Russian individuals having been promised incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, Mr Nunberg said he believed that then presidential-candidate Donald Trump had known about the meetings.
Mr Nunberg's apparent defiance prompted comparisons with Susan McDougal, who spent 18 months behind bars after refusing to comply with a special counsel subpoena during the Whitewater investigation concerning Bill Clinton.
His interviews on Monday prompted at least one interviewer to ask him if he had been drinking. A close ally of long-term Trump confidante Roger Stone, Mr Nunberg worked on the Trump election campaign but was fired in August 2015.
Asked about the former aide's claim that Mr Trump had "done something" in relation to the Russians, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this was "incorrect".
“As we’ve said many times before, there was no collusion with the Trump campaign,” she said, noting that Mr Nunberg had never worked at the White House.
Democratic members of the House intelligence committee said they would be interested in interviewing Mr Nunberg.
Meanwhile, the administration's top security official told a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday that the White House was "actively engaged" in efforts to stop Russia interfering in the mid-term elections this year. "This is a high priority for them," director of national intelligence Dan Coats said. He also indicated that the US treasury could announce sanctions against Russia next week.