The Hatch Act, named after a former New Mexico senator, restricts federal employees – aside from the president and vice president – from certain political behavior, which includes tweeting certain messages, speaking about candidates, rerouting official travel to political events, and collecting of donations could include. It was enacted in 1939 after Democrats were faced with allegations of using Works Progress Administration staff to influence elections the year before.
The president could ban former federal employees who violate the Hatch Act from serving in the federal government again – or if they try to return to a future administration, the Senate could withhold their confirmation or the regulator could pursue additional penalties.
If a federal official is still employed, the special prosecutor often solves the cases with a warning. Sometimes it works with an agency to negotiate disciplinary action – perhaps with a fine or suspension – or direct a case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears cases from federal employees.
The findings are the result of more than 100 complaints filed against various senior members of former President Donald Trump’s administration at the OSC – the federal agency investigating allegations made by federal employees using its platform to get involved in politics became. Many of the complaints concerned the staging of last night’s 2020 Republican National Convention at the White House, although the OSC found that hosting the event itself was not in violation of the Hatch Act.
The report found that some of the 13 people named in the report had breached the Hatch Act on multiple occasions. Most of the violations, according to investigators, were the result of comments on the election of then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden while officials gave interviews in their capacity as government officials.
Senior adviser to President Kellyanne Conway, whose dismissal was recommended by the OSC in 2019 for repeated “egregious” violations of the Hatch Act – was identified as crossing the line by the OSC in two interviews with August Fox News in which she criticized Biden’s selection as Kamala Harris Vice President and Harris’ qualifications for the post of Vice President. Conway did not immediately return a request to comment on the results of the report.
Several members of the White House pressing plant – including McEnany, Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah, and Assistant Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern – have similarly violated the Hatch Act when they officially discussed election-related issues, according to the OSC. Senior advisors to the Trump administration, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, have committed similar violations during media appearances, the office said.
Meadows has been cited at least three times for violating the Hatch Act, including during his campaign on behalf of what is now Rep. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.) running for the former Meadows Congressional Seat and in an interview with the POLITICO Playbook on 26th of August.
At one point in this interview, Meadows argued that the general public doesn’t care about violations of the Hatch Act.
Other Trump officials were determined to have used the powers of their office to aid Trump’s re-election efforts.
These include former incumbent Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who chaired a White House naturalization ceremony that aired during the 2020 Republican National Convention.
The report found that the event was organized to aid Trump’s re-election efforts, despite several warnings from ethics officials to DHS staff, including Wolf’s chief of staff, that doing so would violate the Hatch Act. The OSC report said the episode was “a symbol of the Trump administration’s willful disregard for the Hatch Act.”
Wolf had said he was personally unaware that a video of the event would be used during the convention, and the OSC said it had found no “direct evidence” that he knew of the plan.
It has also been found that a possible 2024 presidential candidate, Pompeo, inappropriately altered State Department policy to speak during the RNC White House event. Pompeo then recorded a speech on official affairs overseas in Jerusalem which was played during the Congress. The report noted that Pompeo did not refer to himself as Foreign Minister during the taped speech, but made repeated references to foreign affairs in his remarks.
“The timing, rationale and scope of the change suggest that its sole purpose was to promote President Trump’s re-election campaign,” the report said.
Representatives from Pompeo, Wolf and McEnany did not immediately return requests for comment.
Disregard of the Hatch Act by the top levels of the Trump administration led some federal employees to ask the OSC if they themselves were still bound by its restrictions, the report said.
In its report, the OSC states that “the Hatch Act for high-ranking officials is only as effective in ensuring a depoliticized federal workforce as the President decides”.
Investigations into potential violations can take weeks or months, even in comparatively simple cases, OSC said, a weakness underscored by the delivery of the report more than a year after the 2020 elections.
“This reality creates a window for a government so inclined to ignore the Hatch Act in the last few months of an election cycle knowing full well that a public complaint or disciplinary action would probably not come long after the election,” it said in this .
The report includes several recommended legislative changes to the law to improve the OSC’s ability to enforce its restrictions on the political activities of federal employees.
Hatch Act violations persecuted members of the Trump administration throughout his tenure. In addition to Conway, former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands, regional housing and urban development manager Lynne Patton were among the officials reprimanded by the OSC for violating the Hatch Act.
The Biden administration took office, promising to better adhere to the Hatch Act and other ethical rules to differentiate itself from its predecessor, though it too was sometimes tripped up by the law.
In May, the OSC concluded that Marcia Fudge of Housing and Urban Development, a former Ohio lawmaker, violated the Hatch Act earlier this year by weighing herself in Ohio’s 2022 Senate election. Fudge apologized a day after making the comments at a press conference at the White House on March 18.
And last month, the outside group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against Biden’s White House press secretary Jen Psaki for comments in support of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. McAuliffe eventually lost that race to Republican Glenn Youngkin.