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House panel votes to subpoena Kellyanne Conway over political speech

The House Oversight Committee has voted to subpoena White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, after the Office of Special Counsel found she violated the law prohibiting government employees from engaging in political speech on the job so many times OSC suggested she be removed from office. 

The 25-16 vote fell largely along party lines, with outspoken Republican Rep. Justin Amash being the only Republican to approve the resolution to subpoena the president's top aide over her Hatch Act violations. The vote came after the hearing dissolved into shouting, with Republicans insisting Conway did not break the law by supporting and opposing candidates while Democrats insisting she did, repeatedly. Republicans claim OSC — run by Trump appointee Henry Kerner — is trying to quash Conway's free speech because she's an effective messenger for the president. Democrats insist she's clearly violating the law. 

"This is not disobeying the law," GOP Rep. Mark Meadows exclaimed. 

"Yes it is!" House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings shouted back during part of the hearing.

The committee had invited Conway to testify about her own violations of the Hatch Act but the White House effectively blocked Conway from testifying about concerns that she had engaged in prohibited political speech while working for the administration. With Conway's no-show, the committee moved forward with the subpoena vote. 

What is the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act, named after Former Senator Carl Hatch and otherwise known as "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities," restricts federal employees from engaging in "political activity" on federal property, while "on duty," when "wearing a uniform or official insignia identifying the office or position of the employee," or when using government property, like government-issued cars, computers and phones.

Among its concerns, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found that Conway "violated the Hatch Act on two occasions by advocating for and against candidates in the December 2017 Alabama special election for United States Senate." The OSC also noted Conway's repeated criticism of Democratic presidential candidates in TV interviews and on social media. 

Conway went so far earlier this week to suggest the law might not apply to presidential assistants like her, a theory White House counsel proposed. Kerner made it clear in the hearing that the law does indeed apply to her. 

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report. 

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