On Thursday, following the Office of Special Counsel recommendation that Kellyanne Conway be terminated from the White House, former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter told CNN's Erin Burnett that it was long overdue.
"It shouldn't have taken this long," said Painter. "In the Bush administration, someone who did was Kellyanne Conway did would have been fired in 24 hours. We never would have allowed someone in an official interview to be endorsing or opposing a candidate for political office. That's a clear violation of the Hatch Act. Doesn't matter who you are. The only person who can do that is the President of the United States and Vice President. So we would have had her out of the Bush White House in 24 hours."
He smacked down his fellow guest, former Bush special assistant Scott Jennings, who argued that it's "outrageous" to say presidential advisers "are not allowed to answer certain questions ... that reporters are asking her."
"That's exactly what I told you in those ethics meetings at the Bush White House," said Painter. "You can't do it, it is illegal, and I told you that and you knew that, and you never would have done it. Karl Rove would have fired anybody doing that in the Bush White House. And I told everybody that and they knew it. If you don’t like the law, you go to Congress and you change that law. It’s been around since the 1930s. It is illegal what Kellyanne Conway did."
"Why can Josh Earnest, the Obama White House Press Secretary, stand at the podium and criticize then-candidate Donald Trump and that's fine. And Kellyanne Conway can’t comment on political affairs?" said Jennings. "Why is it okay when certain people do it and not others?"
"If you had said that in the Bush White House, that just because something happened under Bill Clinton that we can do it here, why is it unevenly applied, I would have gone to the counsel of the president and asked for you to be fired immediately," snapped Painter. "That's not how it's done. The law is the law. I'm tired of pointing fingers at other people. The law is law, it needs to be upheld. She violated the law. There is not a credible case that can be made that Kellyanne Conway has not repeatedly violated the Hatch Act. She must be fired. End of discussion."
"And here is the thing about it," added Burnett. "She is not only doing it. She has made a joke of it. Says she doesn’t care. She laughs it off ... Scott, her response, is that acceptable? 'Let me know when the jail sentence starts'? Blow it off, it's all worthless?"
"I would have the same attitude she had," Jennings insisted. "You've got reporters asking the White House questions, the White House responding to it, and then these people, these toothless whatever come down the hallway saying here's a strongly worded letter that you should be fired. This is so dumb. I cannot even believe Kellyanne Conway has to waste five brain cells worried about this. This is outrageous."
"This is an attitude toward ethics that I think is embarrassing and shameful," said Painter. "And it’s shameful to use your title as a former assistant to President George W. Bush, and you know that in the Bush White House this would not have been tolerated. We would not tolerate violations of the Hatch Act and not refer to the Office of Special Counsel in this manner."
"The bottom line is the reason this is happening is because the United States House of Representatives does not have the courage to impeach Donald Trump, even to open up an impeachment inquiry," concluded Painter. "And until then, we are going to continue to get the middle finger for every single House of Representatives subpoena, we are going to continue to get this attitude toward the Office of Special Counsel and it's going to go on and on because any can get away with it. That's the only justification for this. They can get away with with it even though it violates the law."