Sixteen Trump administration officials violated the law to boost Trump campaign in October
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During the month of October, at least 16 Trump administration officials have violated the Hatch Act a total of more than 60 times. The Hatch Act is a federal law which bans federal employees from using government resources to support a candidate for a partisan political office, and for most government employees comes with serious consequences from suspension to firing.
During the month of October, at least 16 Trump administration officials have violated the Hatch Act a total of more than 60 times, in an unprecedented and escalating assault on the rule of law and the democratic process.
President Trump has allowed — and encouraged — senior officials to use their government roles to take actions benefiting his re-election effort, in its final weeks and days as Americans are casting their ballots. Beyond the 16 administration officials we identified who have committed clear violations of the Hatch Act, the White House appears to have also deployed cabinet members to swing states to tout Trump policies on the taxpayer dime, and pressured leaders of the State Department, FBI and DOJ to take actions against his political adversaries purely for his partisan benefit.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which enforces the Hatch Act, has found 14 senior Trump administration officials in violation of the statute including, most recently, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Fourteen confirmed violations in nearly four years is abysmal on its own, but in the closing month of this election cycle, the Trump administration seems to have adopted an affirmative policy of abusing federal resources to prop up the Trump re-election campaign.
Sixteen Senior Administration Officials Who Violated the Law
In October alone, 16 senior administration aides committed apparent violations of the Hatch Act. Each of them has been referred to OSC and is currently under review. The list includes:
Ivanka Trump, Senior Advisor and First Daughter
Violated the Hatch Act more than 45 times on Twitter alone during the month of October.
Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor and Son-In-Law
Violated the Hatch Act by attacking Democrats and discussing campaign strategy in his government role on the White House grounds.
Robert O’Brien, National Security Advisor
Promoted Trump’s re-election campaign, stating, “What I believe is he should win,” in an interview with Politico conducted in his official government capacity..
Peter Navarro, Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy
Repeated and obvious attacks on former Vice President Biden in interviews conducted in his official capacity and on social media.
Kayleigh McEnany, White House Press Secretary
Standing on the White House grounds and speaking in her official capacity, promoted Trump’s re-election and called on the media to look into the “Joe Biden Hunter Biden situation.”
Ja’Ron Smith, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of American Innovation
Posted message promoting the Trump campaign on the Twitter account he uses for official business including the slogan, “MAGA.”
Alyssa Farah, White House Communications Director
Attacked the Biden campaign and compared the candidates in an interview conducted in her official capacity while standing on White House grounds.
Larry Kudlow, White House National Economic Council Director
Attacked Biden’s economic policy in an interview on Fox Radio in his official capacity.
Dan Brouliette, Secretary of Energy
Attacked Biden’s energy policy in an interview on Fox Radio in his official capacity.
John Ratcliffe, White House Director of National Intelligence
Attacked Biden and invoked election while discussing Hunter Biden laptop and national security issues in an interview on Fox News conducted in his official capacity.
Marc Short, Chief of Staff to the Vice President
In an interview with CNN on White House grounds and in his official capacity, Short repeated a talking point in support of Trump and Pence’s candidacy and against that of Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.
David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
Made comments attacking Biden’s candidacy in an interview conducted in his official capacity with the United Arab Emirates’ al-Ain news site.
Devin O’Malley, Press Secretary to Vice President Pence
Used his official @VPPressSec Twitter account to promote Vice President Pence’s campaign activity “to boost a handful of GOP senators in tight re-election races.”
Brian Morgenstern, White House Deputy Press Secretary
Conducted interviews on White House grounds and in his official capacity, where he promoted the Trump campaign, and attacked Biden’s candidacy
Karoline Leavitt, Assistant White House Press Secretary
Posted message promoting the Trump campaign on the Twitter account she uses for official business including the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Andrew Giuliani, Special Assistant to the President, and Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison
Numerous posts promoting the Trump campaign on the Twitter account he uses for official business including the slogans, “MAGA” and “KAG.”
Senior Administration Officials Traveled to Swing States, Promoting Trump Policies
In addition to the administration’s obvious Hatch Act violations in the media, the Trump administration also seems to have deployed legions of cabinet members to battleground states to tout Trump administration programs in their official capacity. Recent visits include: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in Iowa, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Michigan, among many others.
These types of official actions including travel to swing states, statements and media seemingly coordinated to help the presidents re-election bid are similar to the administration’s prior conduct that OSC is currently investigating when the White House admitted to using government travel to promote vulnerable Republicans during the 2018 midterms. It’s also quite similar to conduct that OSC found violated the Hatch Act when the Bush administration tried to use official events and travel to promote Republican candidates in the 2006 midterms. Even if individual events or statements avoid express political advocacy, it seems obvious that the Trump administration has orchestrated a government wide effort to use official resources to boost his electoral chances, which potentially violates the Hatch Act. Equally concerning is that while Trump administration officials focus all their attention on swing states before Election Day, we’re left to wonder how many critical issues is our government ignoring in America’s deep red and deep blue states?
Agency Heads Pressured to Take Action to Benefit Trump Campaign
In the last month, President Trump has expressed a desire for the FBI, the State Department and the Department of Justice to take explicit actions that would benefit his electoral fortunes. For example, on October 21, 2020, the Associated Press reported that Trump called for Attorney General William Barr to “immediately launch an investigation into unverified claims about Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, effectively demanding that the Justice Department muddy his political opponent and abandon its historic resistance to getting involved in elections.” Although Barr has resisted calls to open or expedite investigations into the president’s political rivals, this month the Department of Justice eased constraints on federal prosecutors opening election fraud inquiries right before Election Day and issued an “unusual news release announcing the investigation of nine mail-in military ballots that were allegedly discarded” in Pennsylvania.
President Trump and his allies have also reportedly repeatedly discussed Trump firing FBI Director Chris Wray, because he has “not done what Trump had hoped — indicate that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden or other Biden associates are under investigation” before Election Day.
Trump’s demands did elicit compliance from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who pledged to release emails from Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton before Election Day. Secretary Pompeo’s actions have now landed him under investigation by OSC for potential Hatch Act violations. As a result of this and other conduct, President Trump is also now the subject of a complaint alleging violations under the criminal provision of the Hatch Act, which prohibits coercion of federal employees to engage in political activity.
Meredith Lerner and Matt Corley contributed to this report.