White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appears to have violated the Hatch Act by endorsing Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia from the podium in the White House Briefing Room.
During a press briefing, Psaki said of McAuliffe, “we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing.” That appears to be an endorsement of his candidacy. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from “us[ing their] official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” “Political activity” is defined as “an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.”
“The last administration systematically co-opted the government for the president’s reelection. While this conduct does not come close to rising to the level of the outrageous offenses of the Trump administration, that does not mean we should be casual about compliance with an important ethics law,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said. “The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path.”
Trump press officials showed a disdain for the Hatch Act, making a mockery of it while they were in office. CREW filed Hatch Act complaints against many of them, including press secretaries Kayleigh McEnany and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and deputies Raj Shah and Hogan Gidley.
Psaki’s apparent violation is nowhere near as extreme as those of her predecessors. In her October 14 press conference, she first tried to frame her answer on the right side of the line, before eventually crossing it. While it is unquestionably a good thing that she was aware of the law, and not completely disregarding it like the Trump administration often did, she still took a step too far.
“After the ethics disaster of the Trump administration, there is extra pressure on the Biden administration to be above board,” Bookbinder said. “It is important to have a concerted effort to comply with important laws, rather than to give repeated passes, in order to restore the American people’s faith in government. We hope the Biden administration will give renewed attention to staying on the right side of this law.”
During the Trump administration, CREW complaints led to reprimands of an unprecedented number of Trump administration officials, including Dan Scavino, Nikki Haley, Stephanie Grisham, Raj Shah, Jessica Ditto, Madeleine Westerhout, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Alyssa Farah, Jacob Wood, Peter Navarro, Kellyanne Conway and Lynne Patton. Following CREW’s complaints against Kellyanne Conway, OSC took the unprecedented step of recommending Conway be removed from federal service in a scathing report detailing her numerous ethics violations.