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Kellyanne Conway must be fired after breaking federal law, say former White House ethics chiefs

Maya Oppenheim

The ethics chiefs for former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama have called for White House advisor Kellyanne Conway to be fired for weighing in on the Alabama Senate race.

Ms Conway sparked controversy after she attacked Republican Alabama Senate Roy Moore’s opponent on television on Tuesday. She responded to a question about Mr Moore, who is accused of pursuing underage girls while he was in his 30s and working as an assistant district attorney in Alabama, by attacking his rival Doug Jones.

Mr Moore has repeatedly denied all accusations and any wrongdoing. He also said that he never dated any women without gaining their mother’s permission.

Walter Shaub, who was ethics director under the Obama administration, argued it was likely Ms Conway violated the Hatch Act and filed a complaint against her for doing so on Wednesday.

"It seems pretty clear she was appearing in her official capacity when she advocated against a candidate," he said.

The federal law prevents White House officials from endorsing or rallying against candidates even in media interviews.

Ms Conway, who has become famed for her on air blunders, addressed the increasingly acrimonious race between Mr Moore and Mr Doug in Alabama.

"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 is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners,” she said on Fox and Friends.

Ms Conway added: "I just want everybody to know, Doug Jones, nobody ever says his name, and pretends he is some kind of conservative Democrat in Alabama. And he's not."

She hinted Mr Moore would be in favour of the Republican party’s plans for sweeping tax cuts, saying: “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through”.

Richard Painter, who was a chief ethics lawyer under Bush, argued Ms Conway had violated federal law.

Mr painter, who is a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s ethics practices, said: “This is an official interview. She has violated the Hatch Act by using her position to take sides in a partisan election. That is a firing offence. And for her this is strike two.”

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded by claiming Ms Conway had merely been discussing issues and was not pushing people not to vote for Mr Jones.

"Ms Conway did not advocate for or against the election of a candidate, and specifically declined to encourage Alabamans to vote a certain way. She was speaking about issues and her support for the President's agenda. This election is for the people of Alabama to decide," Mr Shah said in a statement.

This is not the first time Ms Conway has been accused of breaching a federal ethics law. Earlier this year, she made an on air sales pitch for President Donald Trump’s daughter’s clothing and accessory line.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would say. I hate shopping – I'm going to buy stuff today," Ms Conway said on Fox and Friends. "It's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."

Her comments came after President Trump launched into a Twitter tirade lambasting Nordstrom, a chain of department stores, for choosing to drop Ms Trump's products.

Critics argued her sales pitch violated the law that stipulates: "An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity".

Ms Conway, who coined the now notorious phrase “alternative facts”, has gained a reputation for being gaffe-prone during her time in the White House.

She recently defended the US president’s tweet branding North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un “short and fat,” claiming he only insulted the dictator because Kim had “insulted him first.”

Other blunders include using a TV interview to invent a terrorist attack that never happened termed the “Bowling Green massacre”, suggesting Obama could have spied on Mr Trump using a microwave, and claiming National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had the “full confidence” of President Trump hours before he was fired.