According to a recently published federal investigation, more than a dozen top officials in the Trump administration unlawfully campaigned before the 2020 election while working in government jobs.
The office of Special Counsel Henry Kerner discovered that at least 13 senior officials violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits political appointees from using their jobs to promote political candidates, and that Donald Trump allowed them to illegally campaign for his re-election on the job despite warnings from ethics officials.
“This failure to impose discipline created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch,” investigators wrote. “The president’s refusal to require compliance with the law laid the foundation for the violations. In each of these instances, senior administration officials used their official authority or influence to campaign for President Trump. Based upon the Trump administration’s reaction to the violations, OSC concludes that the most logical inference is that the administration approved of these taxpayer-funded campaign activities.”
The damning 60-page assessment chastised former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for giving a campaign speech from Israel, as well as acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf for leading a recorded naturalization ceremony on White House grounds during the Republican National Convention.
The political appointees who violated the law by blatantly promoting Trump’s reelection or disparaging rival Joe Biden in media interviews were Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette; senior counselor Kellyanne Conway; White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah; U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; senior adviser Stephen Miller; deputy White House press secretary Brian Morgenstern; Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence; and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.
The probe was spurred by an extraordinary flood of complaints to the independent body that enforces the Hatch Act in the aftermath of Trump’s decision to host the convention at the White House amid the coronavirus outbreak. The investigation began while Trump was still president.
However, the report concluded that, while the Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees – with the exception of the president and vice president – from politicking while on duty or in a federal office, it does not impose similar restrictions on others who, in this case, hosted, organized, or attended the convention.
The Office of Special Counsel, run by a Republican nominated by Trump, sets out a series of infractions that the writers emphasize were not accidental slips of the tongue.
“OSC is issuing this report to educate employees about Hatch Act-prohibited activities, highlight the enforcement challenges that [the office] confronted during its investigations, and deter similar violations in the future,” investigators wrote.
According to the study, the Trump White House was fully aware of the Hatch Act’s prohibitions, having received an unprecedented 15 letters from Kerner’s office detailing infractions throughout his administration, as well as two reports on a repeat offender, Conway.
According to the report, Pompeo and Wolf both rejected repeated warnings from experienced ethics officers and lawyers that their presence at the conference would violate the law. An ethics officer even told Wolf 45 minutes before the naturalization ceremony that he should not proceed.
According to the report, the naturalization ceremony “was orchestrated for the purpose of creating content for the convention,” and both events were directly prompted by demands from the Trump campaign or potentially the president himself.
“Thus they reflect the Trump administration’s willingness to manipulate government business for partisan political ends,” the report says.
Pompeo defied a long-standing State Department regulation to speak at the gathering. The policy barred the secretary and all other political appointees from participating in partisan political activity at the agency. According to the article, he only authorized the modification for himself a few days before delivering a filmed address from Jerusalem to the conference.
Investigators also said Pompeo broke a State Department regulation prohibiting him from discussing politics while overseas.
According to internal White House communications, the White House intended to advertise a naturalization ceremony held by a “high level principal” in September 2020, but relocated the event to the convention at the last minute.
According to the report, Wolf said in a written statement to the special counsel’s office that he did not know if footage of the event would be made public or utilized at the Republican National Convention.
Farah, in her official capacity, appeared on Fox News on Oct. 9, weeks before the election, and told an interviewer of the two presidential candidates, “I can’t think of a starker contrast of two candidates against each other than even while sick with covid the president’s got boundless energy and is taking questions and being as transparent as possible on his positions and the fact that we still don’t have basic answers on policy from the Joe Biden campaign.”
On “The Hugh Hewitt Show” on June 25, O’Brien was asked how a Biden win would alter policies toward China. Rather of responding to a question regarding policy, as required by law, O’Brien pushed for Trump’s reelection.
“I expect the president to be reelected and reelected overwhelmingly,” he said. “I think the president’s going to come out on top. The American people see the leadership that he’s providing not just with respect to China; they saw him build the greatest economy in the history of the world. We took a very bad hit because of this virus that came from China. But who do you want to turn to to rebuild the economy — the guy who’s proven he can do it, President Trump, or somebody who’s been in Washington for 40 years?”
According to the study, the cumulative impact of this law-breaking has been to “undermine public confidence” in the impartial functioning of government.
The Biden administration has been cited for a similar offense once before: In March, the special counsel’s office issued a warning to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge regarding statements she made at a White House press conference on the potential of Democrats winning the Ohio Senate seat in 2022. Fudge apologized for his remarks.
A watchdog organization filed a complaint last month alleging that White House press secretary Jen Psaki broke the law by appearing at a White House briefing to favor Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who lost the election for Virginia governor last week.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized in 2012 to a gay rights organization in North Carolina for making political statements promoting President Barack Obama’s reelection. In an official capacity, Julián Castro, then-secretary of housing and urban development, backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. Both were clear infractions, and both authorities were chastised. To prevent such blunders, the White House prohibited the Cabinet from appearing at the Democratic National Convention.
The original title of the 1939 legislation was “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.” It is applicable to both public officials and political appointees. However, the Trump administration demonstrated that there seems to be a two-tiered system of repercussions; the special counsel’s office penalized and, in some instances, dismissed hundreds of career officials for infractions committed during Trump’s four-year presidency.