Though it may not feel like it in the Trump era, the Hatch Act, which bars the use of federal authority and resources to support partisan politics, is still very real. For apolitical career government employees, it can come with serious consequences, like suspension or firing. Even Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, was recently forced to reimburse taxpayers for his political activity during a government event following a CREW complaint. But Trump administration officials continue to run roughshod over the 81 year old statute to boost President Trump’s electoral prospects even as Americans are already voting.
As CREW has previously noted, the Trump administration has escalated its use of official government events and resources for the apparent benefit of the president’s re-election efforts in the time since Trump used White House property to deliver his Republican National Convention speech. In recent weeks, other Trump administration officials have gone even further and used their official positions to promote Trump’s re-election and/or attack his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. That list includes:
On October 19, White House Director of National intelligence John Ratcliffe participated in an interview on Fox News in his official capacity where he discussed official national security information like intelligence briefings and Russian disinformation before making comments regarding the upcoming election. When asked by the host about Hunter Biden, former Vice President Biden, and Russian disinformation, Ratcliffe first said: “Hunter Biden’s laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign and I think the American people know that.” He continued that there were “abuses of power within the intelligence community and within law enforcement some of which has now been proven to be criminal. Those are the same people that want to return to power. They want to have the same opportunity to control the levers of power and to again mislead the American people. So I think that’s something that the American people should consider as they go in and look at elections and everything that’s going on in this country … we have the opportunity to bring truth to what the American people should know.”
On October 8, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, participated in an interview on CNN with Alisyn Camerota, who introduced Short with his official title. Short discussed official White House business during the interview, including Trump’s decision to not participate in a virtual debate with Biden as well as Pence’s COVID-19 status. During the interview, he also repeated a talking point in support of Trump and Pence’s candidacy and against that of Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris. In reference to Pence’s performance during the debate with Harris, Short said, “I think he drew a clear contrast in the divisions of the future of our country as to what it would look like for the Trump/Pence administration versus the radical left policies of the Biden/Harris administration.”
In addition, on September 15, Short gave an interview to Fox Business in his official capacity on White House grounds. During the interview, Short criticized Biden and his running mate, saying, “the president called attention to this a couple months ago when he said that Joe Biden would be a trojan horse for the radical left, and I think we’ve seen that time and again.” “If you go back to the Democrat convention,” Short continued, “it’s when they unveiled the Sanders-Biden unity platform that more or less Bernie Sanders said that Joe Biden has now become their tool for the radical left positions that once, the socialist positions they held were considered outside the mainstream but now they’re ordinary inside the Democrat party.” Short then brought up Harris and criticized her, saying, “And you see that with the running mate he chose who was voted the most liberal Senator in the entire United States Senate who I think has continued to push the radical agenda they brought in.” Short followed those criticisms of the Democratic ticket by contrasting their policy positions with Trump’s.
On October 4, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman made comments attacking Biden’s candidacy in an interview conducted in his official capacity with the United Arab Emirates’ al-Ain news site. Friedman is identified in the story as “American Ambassador to Israel” in Arabic. He first criticized Biden’s foreign policy as part of the Obama administration and compared it to Trump’s, telling the news organization: “Joe Biden was part of the Obama administration, which negotiated and implemented the Iran deal, something that President Trump — and I share his view — thinks was the worst international deal the United States has ever entered into.” Friedman then turned to the consequences of Biden winning the election, saying: “If we continue on this path, we think Iran will ultimately have no choice but to end its malign activity. … I’d hate to think that a new administration would undermine that, but regrettably, if Biden wins, I think they might.”
On September 23, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, in his official capacity, gave a “major speech” on foreign policy at Drake University in the battleground state of Iowa. During the speech, O’Brien advocated for the president’s foreign policy and directly framed it in the context of the president’s re-election efforts by stating that “the world is more peaceful and prosperous, we believe, because of the president’s policies” before adding “there’s more to come in a second Trump term.” O’Brien’s speech was promoted by the official National Security Council Twitter account.
On September 29, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah explicitly invoked the November 3 election in a tweet from her official White House Twitter account that criticized an article in The Atlantic reporting that former aides claim Trump has privately ridiculed conservative religious leaders that support him. In her tweet, Farah referred to religious conservatives and others discussed in the article as “key constituencies that [Trump has] defended & fought for at every turn from now until Nov. 3.” In 2018, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found that Farah violated the Hatch Act through her tweets, and warned that if she engaged in prohibited political activity in the future, “we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action.”
On October 9, Farah was interviewed by Fox News’ Bill Hemmer in her capacity as White House Communications Director. During the interview, Farah discussed Trump’s health and his desire to campaign, which she specifically framed in an electoral context before criticizing Biden. “I can’t think of a starker contrast of two candidates against each other than even while sick with COVID the president’s got boundless energy and is taking questions, and being as transparent as possible on his positions and the fact that we still don’t have basic answers on policy from the Joe Biden campaign,” Farah said. When Hemmer asked about upcoming debates, saying, “what about the concern the campaign has for the possibility of only getting back on stage one time before the American people vote,” Farah attacked Biden again, saying, “well, just speaking from the White House perspective, we think that it’s incredibly important that we draw out the true policy distinctions between what this president has accomplished in four years and what his opponent has failed to accomplish in 47 years, and the best way to do that is to have both of them live on stage together.” Farrah later promoted the interview using her official White House Twitter account by retweeting a clip of the show.
On October 14, Farah used her official White House Twitter account to retweet a tweet from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ “personal account” that attacked Biden and accused him of wrongdoing, saying “There is PLENTY of evidence to suggest Joe Biden knew good and well what Hunter Biden was doing—using his connections to enrich himself and the Biden family.”