At least 13 former Trump administration officials violated the law by intermingling campaigning with their official government duties, according to a new federal investigation released Tuesday.
The report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) says the officials broke the law without consequence and with the administration’s approval as part of a “willful disregard for the Hatch Act,” which prohibits government officials from using their official roles to influence elections, including supporting candidates while acting in their official capacities. “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.
Among the officials cited are former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Jared Kushner, who served as senior adviser to Trump, former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Kellyanne Conway, then counselor to Trump, 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 OSC, which at one point went so far as to call for her removal. Both McEnany and Miller received subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th riot at the Capitol.
“The cumulative effect of these repeated and public violations was to undermine public confidence in the nonpartisan operation of government,” the Office of Special Counsel wrote, adding that, “such flagrant and unpunished violations erode the principal foundation of our democratic system—the rule of law.”
One problem: The Hatch Act is totally toothless. From the report itself: "the Hatch Act is only as effective in ensuring a depoliticized federal workforce as the president decides it will be." https://t.co/FToGwdCNSv
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) November 9, 2021
The OSC 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. 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 then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf violated the Hatch Act by presiding over a naturalization ceremony that was orchestrated for convention programming.
I’m just curious…Why do we even have the Hatch Act, if no one pays a price for violating it? 😡
— Ducks Can Resist Too 🌊💙🦆 (@dhershiser) November 9, 2021
As there are limits to the OSC’s ability to enforce violations, their report suggests 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.
Unprecedented in the history of the Hatch Act. An entire administration at the most senior levels devoted to illegally using federal office to promote the president’s political campaign.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) November 9, 2021
“The 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.