The Office of Special Counsel needs to provide clear, public guidance to ensure that President Trump and other government officials do not use federal resources to support or oppose any candidate in the event of a contested election, according to a letter sent to OSC by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. An independent federal agency, OSC is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act.
Over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, he has routinely blurred the lines between official and campaign business, and senior administration officials have repeatedly violated the Hatch Act. In the weeks leading up to the election, this conduct has only become more brazen. President Trump has already publicly pressured members of his administration, including Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to take explicit actions that would benefit his electoral chances. Meanwhile, he has suggested that he won’t accept the results of the election, which raises the possibility that federal resources could be deployed to help him try to hold onto power.
“Given the President’s abuse of federal resources to help his campaign and his administration’s pattern of disregard for the Hatch Act, it is not a leap to anticipate that Trump will once again marshall federal resources for his personal and political benefit if the results of the election are unclear,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “OSC must act now to ensure administration officials follow the law, especially in the event of a contested election.”
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.” Existing OSC guidance is dated and unclear regarding how it would apply and enforce the law if election results take days or weeks to resolve.
To date, OSC has found at least 14 senior Trump administration aides in violation of the Hatch Act. CREW’s complaints have led to an unprecedented number of Trump administration officials being reprimanded for Hatch Act violations, including Sonny Perdue, Dan Scavino, Nikki Haley, Stephanie Grisham, Raj Shah, Jessica Ditto, Madeleine Westerhout, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Alyssa Farah, Jacob Wood, Kellyanne Conway and Lynne Patton. Following CREW’s complaints against Kellyanne Conway, OSC took the unprecedented step of recommending she be removed from federal service in a scathing report detailing her numerous ethics violations.
“For the last four years, the Trump administration has acted like the Hatch Act’s prohibition on misusing government resources and authorities for politics does not exist and does not matter to the American people,” said Bookbinder. “OSC must remind them that it does exist, it does matter, and it will be enforced, even after votes are cast.”