At least 13 senior Trump administration officials have illegally mixed management with campaigning ahead of the 2020 elections, deliberately ignoring a law banning the combination of the two and getting permission to violate it, a federal investigation released Tuesday showed.
A report from the office of Special Adviser Henry Kerner described “willful disregard for the law,” known as the Hatch Act, that was “particularly pernicious,” given that many officials abused their government duties in the days leading up to the November elections. The report said President Donald Trump, whose job was to discipline his political appointees, allowed them to illegally promote his re-election to the office, despite warnings from some ethics officials.
“This failure to impose discipline created the conditions for what looked like a taxpayer-funded electoral apparatus in the upper echelons of the executive branch,” investigators wrote in a caustic 60-page report.
“The president’s refusal to demand compliance with the law laid the foundation for violations,” the statement said. “In each of these cases, senior administration officials have used their official authority or influence to campaign for President Trump. Based on the Trump administration’s reaction to the violations, the OSC concludes that the most logical conclusion is that the administration approved these taxpayer-funded campaigns. ”
The Special Adviser found that two cabinet officials, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting National Security Chief Chad Wolff, had broken the law when Pompeo delivered a speech from Israel and Wolff conducted a taped naturalization ceremony for newly minted citizens on White House grounds, both in time of the Republican National Congress.
The investigation was prompted by an unprecedented flood of complaints to an independent agency that enforces the Hatch Act following Trump’s decision to hold a White House congress during the coronavirus pandemic. The investigation began when Trump was still president.
But the report concluded that while the Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees, with the exception of the president and vice president, from engaging in politics while in office or in the federal office, it does not impose similar restrictions on others that it did in this case. organizing or attending a convention.
The Office of the Special Adviser, led by a Trump-appointed Republican, lays out a series of violations that the authors emphasize were not innocent mistakes or reservations.
No punishment is expected because, according to most legal interpretations, the then-incumbent president is the only person who can take action to dismiss or reprimand his political appointees if they are acting illegally. The report said the agency’s continued review of how the administration violated the law, designed to ensure that civil servants and political appointees operate without political influence, was intended to demonstrate that the law has no teeth and stronger enforcement mechanisms are required.
“OSC is releasing this report to educate employees about Hatch Act activities and highlight the enforcement issues that [the office] confront during the investigation, and prevent similar violations in the future, ”the investigators wrote.
The political appointees who broke the law by openly promoting Trump’s re-election or by belittling rival Joe Biden in media interviews were Energy Secretary Dan Bruyette; Senior Adviser Kellianne Conway; Alissa Farah, White House Director of Strategic Communications; US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany; White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; senior advisor Stephen Miller; Brian Morgenstern, Deputy White House Press Secretary; Mark Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence; and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
The report said the Trump White House was well aware of the limitations of the Hatch Act, receiving an unprecedented 15 letters from Kerner’s office during his presidency outlining violations and two reports of a repeat offender, Conway.
According to the report, Pompeo and Wolff ignored repeated warnings from ethics officials and lawyers that they would break the law by appearing at the convention. The ethics official even warned Wolf 45 minutes before the recording of the naturalization ceremony that he should not move on.
The report says the naturalization ceremony “was organized to create content for the convention,” and that both events were triggered directly by requests from the Trump campaign, or perhaps the president himself.
“They thus reflect the Trump administration’s willingness to manipulate state business for political ends,” the report said.
Pompeo overturned long-standing State Department policies by allowing himself to speak at convention. The policy prohibited the secretary and all other political appointees in the agency from participating in party politics. The report says he approved the change only for himself a few days before delivering a taped speech from Jerusalem at the convention.
Investigators also said that Pompeo violated a State Department rule by speaking about politics while abroad.
Internal emails show that the White House planned to publish a naturalization ceremony hosted by the “high-level director” in September 2020, but moved the event to a convention at the last minute.
In a written statement to the special attorney’s office, Wolf said he did not know if the video from the ceremony will be made public or if it will be used at the Republican National Convention, the report said.
In the case of Farah, she appeared on Fox News in her official capacity on October 9, a few weeks before the election, and told the interviewer of the two presidential candidates: sick with COVID, the president has boundless energy, answers questions and is as transparent as possible in his positions and that we still do not have basic answers about politics from Joe Biden’s campaign. “
O’Brien appeared on The Hugh Hewitt Show on June 25 and was asked how Biden’s victory would affect policy toward China. Rather than nominally answering the question of politics as required by law, O’Brien instead advocated Trump’s re-election.
“I expect the president to be re-elected and re-elected by an overwhelming majority,” he said. “I think the president will come out the winner. The American people see the leadership they provide for more than just China; they saw him build the greatest economy in the history of the world. We have been hit very hard by this virus coming from China. But who do you want to turn to to rebuild the economy – the guy who has proven he can do it, President Trump, or someone who has been in Washington for 40 years? “
The report concludes that the cumulative effect of this violation of the law is to “undermine public confidence” in non-partisan government activities.
The Biden administration was once cited for a similar violation, with the special adviser’s office in March alerting Housing and Urban Development Minister Marcia Fudge about the comments she made at a White House press conference when she weighed in on the possibility that Democrats might win the competition. Ohio Senate rate for 2022. Fudge apologized for the comments.
Last month, a group of observers complained that White House press secretary Jen Psaki broke the law by appearing at a White House briefing to support Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who lost the race for Virginia governor last week.
In the Obama administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized in 2012 for speaking out against a gay rights group in North Carolina in which she promoted the re-election of President Barack Obama. Julian Castro, then Minister of Housing and Urban Development, endorsed Hillary Clinton as president in 2016 in an interview in his official capacity. Both were clear violations and both officials were reprimanded. The White House banned the cabinet from speaking at the Democratic National Convention to avoid such trouble.
The original 1939 law was called the Prevention of Harmful Political Activities Act. This applies to both civil servants and political appointees. But the Trump administration has demonstrated that there is a two-tiered system of consequences; The special attorney’s office fined and in some cases fired hundreds of cadres for violations during the four years that Trump was in power.