September 3, 2020
In an August 26 interview with Politico, President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows dismissed concerns about the Hatch Act violations committed during the Republican National Convention (RNC), saying that “nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about the Hatch Act and that backlash to violations was “hoopla.” Curiously, in 2014, then Rep. Mark Meadows was quite concerned with the statute. He told Fox News that a government attorney should be investigated for tweets supporting Democrats, stating: “She actually violated the Hatch Act… it’s troubling.”
Taxpayers, regardless of political affiliation, fund the government to work on behalf of all Americans, not to campaign for one political party or candidate. Instead, as Election Day approaches, President Trump and his staff are focused on using our government’s resources to help Trump hold onto power. Anyone who is concerned about the use of government resources and taxpayer funds should care about the Hatch Act. But whether or not they do, it is still the law of the land, and the Trump administration’s persistent violations raise questions about criminal liabilities for President Trump himself if he forced government employees to violate the law.
CREW has already filed complaints against Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for their egregious violations, but other illegal activity has flown under the radar. Below is a list of the more than a dozen apparent Hatch Act violations from the last two weeks while the RNC and Democratic National Convention (DNC) were held. You might have missed them amidst the distraction of Trump’s firework display on government property, but CREW forwarded them to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for investigation and the matters are being reviewed:
1. In an interview on CNN on August 23, Kushner answered questions from Fareed Zakaria about official government business such as the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, before discussing Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election. Kushner, who was identified by his official title, “Senior Advisor” to President Trump, stated in part: “We’re seeing the polls moving big in our favor over the last month. People want law and order. … President Trump is very confident that the American people know that he’s the right person to rebuild our country.” He also denigrated the Democratic Party, staring, regarding the DNC: “We saw the Democrats last week have a very dark vision for America.”
2. During the same interview where Meadows dismissed the Hatch Act as ”hoopla,” he also violated the statute. Before answering questions about government business, Meadows discussed and endorsed Trump’s re-election strategy though he claimed to be speaking in his personal capacity. OSC has previously found that federal employees can’t just switch between their personal and official roles in television interviews. Meadows endorsed Trump’s re-election effort before answering questions about his negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about another coronavirus stimulus package. He stated: “if we look at those states and making sure that we take a message not only about jobs but also about how we’re going to set a different agenda between this president and candidate Joe Biden…. Let’s look at the policies that really matter. That’s what we’re going to try to focus on.”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson
3. On Monday August 17, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials distributed an op-ed penned by President Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the Trump administration would protect suburbs and attacking the “Biden-Sanders unity platform” and the “the Obama-Biden dystopian vision of building low-income housing units next to your suburban house. Some leading Democrats want to go even further.” Carson’s role in drafting the op-ed violated the Hatch Act.
4. The dissemination of this political op-ed to federal employees at HUD using a government email account also violated the Hatch Act.
5. On August 23, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro participated in an interview on Fox News where he criticized Biden’s trade record and said that China supported Biden because “They know he can be bought. They know he’s compromised.” Navarro also said that the election is posing a choice between “a nice guy and a tough guy. And we like that matchup, because I think the people of America will always choose a tough guy in the White House over a nice guy, because they know the world’s a dangerous place.”
6. In an interview on Fox News on August 28, Navarro spoke in his official capacity about administration policy and also attacked Biden. Navarro addressed Trump’s comments that “China would own this country if there was a Joe Biden Presidency” saying they were “exactly right” when asked by the host. Navarro added: “The problem with Joe Biden is that he has a record. A 44 year old record.” He went on to further disparage Biden, claiming that “Joe’s dangerous when it comes to off-shoring jobs” and attacking Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
7. Later, Navarro shared a similar political message on the Twitter account he uses for official government business including a link to the Fox News interview.
8. In an interview on Fox Business on August 20, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow spoke in his official capacity regarding the Trump administration’s economic policy and goals amid the coronavirus pandemic before attacking Biden’s proposed tax plan and environmental policy, stating in part: “The middle class folks will get the tax hike … Why would you take money out of people’s pockets?” He added: “Here’s what’s at stake to voters .. Do you want a future economy with prosperity, and opportunity and health, or do you want to go back to go back to stagnant economy which will make everybody worse off and lower living standards.”
9. On August 27, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, discussed Pence’s “law and order” RNC speech in an interview with CNN on the grounds of the White House. Short, who was introduced by his official title, said “there is a stark difference as to where we’re going to see the path of two different nations, between a Trump/Pence administration versus a Biden/Harris administration.”
10. In another interview during the week of the RNC, this time with Campus Reform from Vice President Pence’s ceremonial office, Short again contrasted a potential Biden administration with the Trump administration, saying that “I think [Trump’s agenda is] in stark contrast to where Democrats have painted a very dark picture of America…. They’re more or less fully embraced in the unity package between Biden and Sanders that leads to a true socialist future for our country.” Short said a Biden presidency would lead to more regulation that would create fewer opportunities for students.
11. On August 18, then-Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway gave an interview with Fox News in her official capacity on White House grounds where she critiqued the DNC and Biden. Conway told Sean Hannity that with Biden as his challenger, Trump continues to “run as the outsider” and that “Joe Biden … has done less in 47 years in Washington that Donald Trump has done 47 months in Washington.”
12. In an interview on August 19 conducted on White House grounds and in her official capacity, Conway articulated a political argument for Trump’s re-election, explaining that President Trump would address “why four more years is needed to continue and expand upon the economic successes, his role as the healthcare president, what he’s done on trade deals with China, with Korea, with Mexico, with Canada.” OSC has repeatedly found that the President’s exemption from the civil provisions of the Hatch Act do not extend to staff even when they are speaking for the President.
13. During the week of the RNC on August 27, Conway gave an interview in her official capacity on the White House grounds in which she addressed the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police. Conway criticized “Democratic governors” and criticized candidate Joe Biden’s response to “violence” as delayed. She added additional political comments stating that “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.” Conway added that she told President Trump that “he’s so well positioned in this White House and in this campaign to run through the tape and be reelected and that’s wonderful because I told him, the next two months you focus on winning.”
14. During the week of the DNC, Trump ally and HUD appointee Lynn Patton used her government position to help produce footage using public housing tenants of color in a pro-Trump video that was broadcast on August 27 at the RNC without their permission. In the video, which includes an image of Joe Biden, the residents praised the Trump administration and attacked Democrats. President Trump and the Trump campaign subsequently promoted the video as well. Residents recruited by Ms. Patton for the film expressed surprise and disappointment that the video made it seem as if they were Trump supporters.
15. On August 20, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave an interview to Fox News in her official capacity on the White House grounds. Appearing to reference Biden, McEnany said that “What this president is doing, he doesn’t hide in basements, he goes out and talks to the American people. He’s traveled more than 6,000 miles this week, he’ll be out to Pennsylvania today. He looks the American people in the eye, he talks directly to them while Democrats just have a bunch of politicians lying amongst themselves.”