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Will Ethics Complaint Against Kellyanne Conway Be Successful?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump's closest advisors, is facing an ethics complaint from 15 law professors. Conway is, of course, an attorney herself. After all, who could so deftly pull out a phrase like "alternative facts" and not blink an eye, if not a lawyer? She graduated from George Washington University Law School and joined the D.C. Bar in 1995. The complaint accuses Conway of violating her professional responsibilities by making allegedly dishonest and inaccurate statements.

So, do the professors have a case, or is this mere political grandstanding?

The Complaint Against Kellyanne

In a letter to the D.C. Bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the law professors, all ethics teachers, request an investigation into Conway's recent conduct as a Trump advocate. Conway's statements, the professors allege, constitute professional misconduct because they involve "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."

To support these claims, they point to several incidents that you've probably seen covered in outraged Facebook posts and cable TV segments. They start with Conway's reference to the unreported "Bowling Green Massacre." In an interview on MSNBC, Conway said that Iraqi refugees "were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre. Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered" by the mainstream press.

In fact, most people didn't know of the Bowling Green Massacre because it never occurred. There simply was no terrorist attack in Bowling Green. Conway later apologized, saying the reference was a "slip of the tongue."

The professors also say that Conway made false statements that President Obama had "banned" Iraqi refugees, equating the action to President Trump's executive order banning immigration and travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

They point out her much-maligned reference to "alternative facts" to justify the president's estimation of his inaugural crowd and her on-air endorsement of Ivanka Trump's fashion line. Speaking on Fox News after Ivanka's line had been pulled from Nordstrom, Conway said "I'm going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today everybody; you can find it online." Federal ethics rules prohibit public officers from using their office to promote products.

Conway's role as a lawyer in public office makes these alleged misrepresentations and violations even more egregious, the complaint states.

So, Do They Have a Case?

The rules of professional conduct do bar dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation, and it's hard to say that Conway hasn't crossed that line. But usually, disciplinary action for fraud or deceit is merited when the conduct relates to the practice of law, not Sunday morning talk shows.

Some even see the complaint has an attack on free speech. Paul Alan Levy, of Public Citizen Litigation Group, is one such lawyer. On his personal blog, he notes that Public Citizen has called for discipline over Conway's Ivanka endorsement. He worries that "our democracy might not survive the Trump presidency" and likens Conway's lies about plain facts as similar to truth-defying "propagandists like Bukharin." So, he's not a Trumpist. But, he concludes:

My view is that bar charges like this one are a threat to the First Amendment, that bar grievance officials, as public officials working in the judicial branch, are an organ of the government and hence are constrained by the First Amendment, and that they should not conduct proceedings that risk chilling free speech rights.

The remedy for "false political speech is more speech," Levy argues, "not a government proceeding to determine the truth and punish those to have lied."

And even if the complaint is successful, it won't have much on an immediate impact on Conway. She's currently suspended for non-payment of dues.

So, what do you think? Should Conway be disciplined? Let us know in the poll below.

Should the DC Bar discipline Kellyanne Conway for deceit or misrepresentation?
Yes, she's crossed a line.
No, this is all political.

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