A new report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) details that more than a dozen former Trump administration officials campaigned on behalf of the former president while working within their government roles. This is in direct violation of provisions within the Hatch Act, which prohibits such behavior from federal government employees.
Those officials showed a “willful disregard for the law,” the report signed by Special Counsel Henry Kerner said.
At least 13 officials who served under former President Donald Trump broke the rules by promoting Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign while also performing their civic government duties. The OSC report cited specific violations from Trump’s former aides, including adviser Stephen Miller, chief of staff Mark Meadows, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and White House counsel Kellyanne Conway.
As one example of a violation, the report detailed an action by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. While traveling abroad for official work in Israel, Pompeo created a video that would be broadcast during the Republican National Convention, the political event where Trump was set to be nominated for re-election by the Republican Party.
The use of White House grounds for the convention was also deemed inappropriate. When asked whether this action was illegal in August 2020, Trump told reporters that there wasn’t a Hatch Act violation for hosting a campaign event at the White House “because it doesn’t pertain to the president.”
Presidents and vice presidents are indeed exempt from the Hatch Act, the OSC conceded in its report. But the agency also said that “the law most certainly does apply to senior members of the president’s administration,” noting that other administration officials participated in the event.
The OSC has attempted to highlight violations by Trump officials in the past, and even recommended to Trump in 2019 that Conway should be fired.
“If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her federal position by the Merit Systems Protection Board,” Kerner wrote in a letter to Trump in the summer of that year. “As a highly visible member of the Administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions.”
Trump refused to take disciplinary action toward his staff, even though the Hatch Act requires him to do so. Instead, he allowed them to illegally campaign for him while on the job, in spite of warnings from ethics officials in the White House.
The failure to discipline appointees led to “what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch,” OSC officials said in the report.
The OSC is unable to take any actual disciplinary actions against White House officials after they leave office. It’s also difficult for the agency to take actions in “real time,” the report states, because it doesn’t have the resources to do so.
To deal with such issues, the OSC recommends introducing an amendment to the Hatch Act that will allow the agency “to pursue substantial monetary penalties against [presidential appointees] and commissioned officers,” and to allow the Merit Systems Protection Board to have “jurisdiction over former employees for Hatch Act violations committed during their period of federal employment.”