- The RNC has featured a series of moments which critics have suggested violate ethics laws, prompting outraged reactions.
- They included appearances by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, as well as the use of the White House as a backdrop.
- Sources close to Trump, speaking anonymously to the media, have suggested that they revel in breaching norms meant to stop the politicization of the federal government.
- The Daily Beast reported that Trump allies love to see outlets fume over ethics issues. The New York Times said some aides “take pride” in breaking the rules.
- Trump officials have denied breaking any rules. But a Trump campaign official tweeted Tuesday mocking critics “upset about the use of government buildings.”
- Visit Business Insider’s home page for more stories.
A series of moments from the Republican National Convention have been met with outrage after critics suggested that appearances from Cabinet officials, and use of the White House as a backdrop, violate ethics rules.
According to numerous media reports citing Trump campaign insiders, the outrage is exactly the point.
Trump aides “take pride” in pushing the boundaries of ethics laws that are supposed to separate public office and political activities, The New York Times reported.
The Daily Beast, citing two former officials, said one motivation is that such acts frustrate the media with few consequences for themselves.
Trump campaign comms direction Tim Murtaugh also linked the use of federal buildings with outrage from “liberals,” claiming it exposed a double standard.
Liberals are more upset about the use of government buildings than they ever were about the use of the FBI to target political opponents.
— Tim Murtaugh (@TimMurtaugh) August 26, 2020
Most criticism of the RNC has focused on the Hatch Act, a 1930s federal law designed to stop top-level government employees partaking in political activity. It excludes the president and vice-president.
Some experts also think the law bans the use of public spaces for political activities, The New York Times reported.
The accusations of violating the act stem from in some cases from speeches – from officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf – who hold positions that have historically been removed from frontline politics.
It also involves events being held in federal spaces, including the White House itself.
According to the Beast, Trump’s “aides and advisers revel in their increasingly frequent violations of the Hatch Act.”
Two former officials told the Daily Beast that senior administration officials broadly see the Hatch Act as a joke, and gloat over how their violations have largely been met with no consequences.
According to the Beast, “Some Trump lieutenants have privately bragged about their alleged violations as a proud rite of passage.”
Trump allies are happy if the media becomes fixated on the topic, the Beast reported, claiming that the average US voter will not care about it.
The New York Times also reported that some of Trump’s aides “privately scoff” at the act, and “take pride” in violating it.
Allegations from the RNC
Pompeo’s speech was prerecorded from Jerusalem, part of a taxpayer-funded State Department trip. Ethics experts say that he likely violated the act.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, said he is launching an investigation of the speech, which he said may breach “the Hatch Act, government-wide regulations implementing that Act, and State Department policies.”
And Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said before Pompeo’s speech that it “will violate legal restrictions on political activities, according to a longstanding interpretation by State Department lawyers.”
And, as Business Insider Eliza Relman reported, the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, was criticised for holding a naturalization ceremony for five new US citizens at the White House in a video broadcast during the convention.
Walter Shaub, who was director of the US Office of Government Ethics under former President Barack Obama, tweeted on Tuesday night that he’d “seen a lot of ethical abuses before” but that he’d “never seen anything like that.”
“Chad Wolf not only used his official authority for politics, he specifically hijacked a governmental function for the Trump campaign. And he used humans,” he said.
He later said: “Chad Wolf using official authority to conduct a legally binding act as a bit of performance art for Trump’s re-election is so far over the line as to make him unfit for public service.”
Ethics groups have also condemned Trump and first lady for using the White House as the backdrop for their speeches and appearances at the convention.
Shaub tweeted: “This is your reminder that the White House belongs to us, not the party.”
And he also tweeted: “The Rose Garden is used for official government business, including press conferences. They had no business using that official area of the White House for a campaign event.”
The Washington Post reported that a team of lawyers reviewed Pompeo’s speech before it was recorded to ensure it did not violate ethics rules. A person close to Pompeo and the State Department told the outlet that no taxpayer money would be used in the video’s production.
The State Department defended his speech by saying that he appeared at the convention in a personal capacity.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that the White House defended the naturalization ceremony against accusations of ethics violations because it “publicized the content of the event on a public website this afternoon and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes.”
Trump aides have previously been called out under the Hatch Act. The US Office of Special Counsel said in 2019 that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the act on “numerous occasions” and should be removed from the White House.
In the end, Conway stayed in office and announced her departure this month for unrelated reasons.