“The cumulative effect of these repeated and public violations was to undermine public confidence in the nonpartisan operation of government,” they wrote, adding that, “such flagrant and unpunished violations erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”
The office investigated officials’ comments in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, including the Republican National Convention, which was held at the White House in a major break from historical norms.
While the Office of Special Counsel concluded that hosting the event at the White House did not itself violate the Hatch Act, it found plenty of other instances where Trump officials did, mostly by promoting the former president’s reelection in media interviews in which they appeared in their official capacity.
From the archives (August 2020): Trump’s convention breaks norms — and possibly the Hatch Act
Also see (August 2020): Republican convention to forgo party platform in favor of blanket support for Trump’s agenda
Among the officials cited are former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Jared Kushner, who served as senior adviser to the president; former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; Kellyanne Conway, then counselor to the president; Stephen Miller, who served as Trump’s senior policy adviser; and Robert O’Brien, the former national-security adviser. Conway had been repeatedly cited by the office, which at one point went so far as to call for her removal.
From the archives (June 2019): Kellyanne Conway should be fired due to violating partisanship restrictions, federal agency recommends
Also see: Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany join lengthening list of Trump associates subpoenaed by Jan. 6 select committee
“In each case, the subject official was identified by their official title, discussed administration policies and priorities related to their official duties, and/or spoke from the White House grounds,” the report reads.
The investigation also found that then–Secretary of State Michael Pompeo changed State Department policy to allow himself to speak at Trump’s convention and then referenced official work in his speech. And it found the then-acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, violated the Hatch Act by presiding over a naturalization ceremony that was orchestrated for convention programming.
From the archives (September 2020): Pompeo’s breaks with apolitical State Department tradition did not end with convention address from Jerusalem
“Both reflect the Trump administration’s willingness to manipulate government business for partisan political ends,” the report reads, adding that, “The administration’s willful disregard for the law was especially pernicious considering the timing of when many of these violations took place.”
The report notes the office repeatedly warned Trump White House officials about their violations, but that the former president who is responsible for enforcing the law for high-ranking officials never bothered to do that.
Trump had reportedly joked he would “excuse anyone found to be violating” the Hatch Act on his behalf. Meadows, as chief of staff, dismissed concerns about such violations, reportedly telling Politico: “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares.”
Jen Psaki, press secretary in the Joe Biden White House, was recently faulted for her answer when a reporter in the briefing room asked her to gauge the administration’s feelings on a tightening gubernatorial race in Virginia, before Republican Glenn Youngkin ultimately overtook former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. Psaki, who later conceded she would need to tread more carefully in the future, responded that Joe Biden hoped McAuliffe would prevail and would do his best to achieve that end.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, a nonprofit watchdog group, had called attention to Psaki’s misstep.
Breaking news: Judge refuses Trump request to block release by National Archives of Jan. 6 records
Given the limited power the office has to enforce violations, the report suggested potential changes to the law, including a statutory amendment that would allow it to fine Senate-confirmed presidential appointees and commissioned officers, as well as greater investigative power. They also recommended an amendment to clarify which areas of the White House should be off-limits to political activity.
“[T]he 2020 election revealed that, at least with respect to an administration’s senior most officials, the Hatch Act is only as effective as the White House decides it will be. Where, as happened here, the White House chooses to ignore the Hatch Act’s requirements, then the American public is left with no protection against senior administration officials using their official authority for partisan political gain in violation of the law,” it reads.
The watchdog CREW said the report underscored the need for better enforcement.
“This report confirms that there was nothing less than a systematic co-opting of the powers of the federal government to keep Donald Trump in office,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of the group. “Congress must act now so that this never happens again.”
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