Today, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) issued a report outlining the investigative findings of its career Hatch Act Unit staff in response to Hatch Act complaints filed with OSC regarding senior Trump administration officials’ participation in the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) and their political activities leading up to the presidential election.
OSC asserted that at least 13 senior Trump administration officials illegally mixed politics and government the 2020 election, intentionally ignoring a law that prohibits merging the two and getting approval to break it, according to a federal investigation released Tuesday.
OSC received numerous complaints alleging Hatch Act violations at the RNC and the specter of political activity on White House grounds.
The Hatch Act “prohibits Federal employees from engaging in political activities while on duty, in a Government room or building, while wearing an official uniform, or while using a Government vehicle”
According to the report, 11 of the named individuals “made campaign statements” that either disparaged Joe Biden’s campaign or elevated Donald Trump’s re-election efforts during media interviews
In its report, however, OSC found that the Hatch Act does not prohibit political events from being held on certain White House grounds, nor would it broadly prohibit federal employees from participating. \
OSC did find violations by 13 senior Trump administration officials, including two violations in connection with the 2020 RNC.
Although then-President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Michael Pence were exempt from the Hatch Act’s restrictions, among the administration officials who broke the law were Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway, White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and Chief of Staff to the Vice President Marc Short.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo were identified for violations during the Republican National Convention.
The report outlines how the 13 officials used their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of the 2020 presidential election.
Taken together, the report concludes that the violations demonstrate both a willingness by some in the Trump administration to leverage the power of the executive branch to promote President Trump’s reelection and the limits of OSC’s enforcement power.
Over the span of 18 separate interviews last year, each of the 11 named individuals “made campaign statements” that either disparaged Joe Biden’s campaign or elevated Donald Trump’s reelection efforts. In each case, the Trump official was “identified by their official title, discussed administration policies and priorities related to their official duties, and/or spoke from the White House grounds.”
“OSC therefore has concluded that these 11 Trump administration officials violated 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) by campaigning on behalf of President Trump’s reelection during official interviews or media appearances,” the OSC report said in part.
The ethics agency said Trump refused to hold senior officials accountable for violating the Hatch Act and in at least one case, the former president publicly defended a senior official who OSC found violated the law.
After finding her guilty of repeated violations, OSC recommended firing Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway but as the report stated: “Despite that recommendation, President Trump not only refused to act but publicly defended Ms. Conway, reiterating the baseless claim that taking action against her for statements made in her official capacity would ‘take away her right of free speech.'”
Though discipline is no longer possible once subjects leave government service, OSC is issuing this report to fully document the violations, highlight the enforcement challenges that OSC confronted in investigating the violations, and to deter similar violations in the future.
The full report can be found here.
Trump was widely known for taking an ambivalent approach to the ethics rules and norms that guided past administrations, and even joked he would “excuse anyone found to be violating” the Hatch Act on his behalf.
The OSC issued an “unprecedented” amount of warnings to the Trump White House concerning numerous officials who may have violated the act, but found the administration was not receptive to their recommendations. The OSC also called on the president to fire his senior counselor Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly ignoring the rules. It is up to the president to determine any appropriate disciplinary action for workers who violate the law, and Trump declined to take action against Conway or the others.
“But rather than attempt to comply with the law, the most senior officials in the administration were publicly and, reportedly, privately dismissive of the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” the report said.
The Office of of Special Counsel is an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency that oversees executive branch officials, including their compliance with the Hatch Act.