- “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” if the Trump administration violates the Hatch Act, according to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
- The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in certain political activities, including campaign, while working in an official capacity.
- The Trump administration has a history of violating the Hatch Act, which also helps ensure tax dollars are not used to advance a political campaign.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is being accused by Democrats of violating the Hatch Act by delivering an unprecedented RNC speech on a taxpayer-funded trip to the Middle East on Tuesday.
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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday said that “nobody” cares if top members of the Trump administration are violating a federal law that helps to prevent taxpayer funds from going toward political campaigning.
Meadows brushed off concerns pertaining to the law in relation to actions from the White House amid the Republican National Convention (RNC) this week.
In a conversation with Politico on Wednesday, Meadows said, “What it’s really designed to do is to make sure people like myself and others do not use their political position to try to convince other employees other federal employees that they need to vote one way, need to register one way or need to campaign in one way.”
“We take it on well beyond the original intent of the Hatch Act,” Meadows said.
“Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares. They expect that Donald Trump is going to promote Republican values and they would expect that Barack Obama, when he was in office, that he would do the same for Democrats,” Meadows added. “So listen, this is a lot of hoopla that’s being made about things, mainly because the convention has been so unbelievably successful.”
— POLITICO (@politico) August 26, 2020
In a Tuesday night tweet decrying those who downplay violations of the law, Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter, said, “Anybody poo pooing the Hatch Act is ignorant of the fact that @US_OSC is aggressively going after low-level career government employees while holding the highest level officials with the most capacity to do harm to lower standards. The Hatch Act yet lives, just not for Trumpers.”
The Hatch Act is a 1939 federal law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in certain political activities, including campaigning, while working in an official capacity. The law excludes the president and vice president.
“The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” according to the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
A number of Trump officials have been accused of violating the Hatch Act, most recently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. America’s top diplomat broke protocol and delivered a controversial speech during the RNC on Tuesday while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Jerusalem. The move prompted fierce criticism from ethics watchdogs, Democrats, and diplomats, as well as allegations that Pompeo violated the Hatch Act. It was the first time in at least 75 years that a secretary of state spoke at a political convention, and therefore a highly unorthodox move.
Acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf oversaw a naturalization ceremony during the RNC on Tuesday, raising questions as to whether he violated the Hatch Act by allowing his official duties to be exploited as Trump promoted his reelection campaign from the White House.
In a tweet on the naturalization ceremony, the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said, “This is so obviously, blatantly, insultingly a Hatch Act violation that it’s starting to seem like the Trump administration is going out of its way to find new ways to violate the law.”
This is so obviously, blatantly, insultingly a Hatch Act violation that it's starting to seem like the Trump administration is going out of its way to find new ways to violate the law. https://t.co/wOQnWl1wO4
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) August 26, 2020
The Hatch Act explicitly prohibits federal employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”
Penalties for violations of the Hatch Act by federal employees includes “removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for a period not to exceed 5 years, suspension, reprimand, or a civil penalty not to exceed $US1,000,” according to the OSC.
The OSC, an independent federal agency, is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act. Matters pertaining to the law are adjudicated before the Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative agency.
In November 2018, the OSC issued a report that six White House staffers had violated the Hatch Act by including Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” or “MAGA,” in tweets on their official accounts.
And last June, the OSC determined that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had violated the Hatch Act by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in an official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” The OSC recommended firing Conway.
Subsequently, Conway defied a subpoena from the House Ethics Committee to testify on the matter. Conway remains a top member of the Trump administration.
House Democrats are launching an investigation into Pompeo’s RNC speech as he faces allegations of violating the Hatch Act.
Trump’s decision to hold much of the RNC at the White House, turning it into a campaign venue, has also been heavily criticised in Washington and raised alarm bells among ethics watchdogs.