After a report from a government watchdog on Tuesday found that at least 13 Trump officials had knowingly violated a law prohibiting campaigning while holding government positions, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey) are calling for the passage of a bill aimed at punishing the officials and preventing future violations.
The Political CRIMES Act, which the lawmakers introduced in August, proposes stricter guidelines and punishments for the Hatch Act, which prohibits officials from abusing their power to campaign. Even though former President Donald Trump was required by the Hatch Act to discipline his staff for the violations, he did no such thing — and since his staff are no longer in office, there is little that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) can do to reprimand the officials.
Warren and Pascrell’s bill largely follows OSC recommendations for improving the law. It would create an independent body to investigate all Hatch Act violations in the last decade, including those of the Trump administration. The bill would clarify that former officials are subject to the OSC enforcement and would reinforce that the law applies to violations on federal property, such as the White House.
The Political CRIMES Act would increase the fee for a violation from $1,000 to $5,000, and add a provision that would double the fee for each violation. It would also request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) specifically review political events held on White House grounds.
The latter provision is likely aimed directly at a blatant Hatch Act violation from last year, when Trump portrayed the White House as belonging to Republicans during the Republican National Convention. This culminated in Trump attending a filmed naturalization ceremony in the White House in August, which was clearly a campaign stunt — and a flagrant violation of the Hatch Act, commentators noted.
Though presidents are exempt from the Hatch Act, then-acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf also attended the event. Over a year later, the OSC has officially confirmed that Wolf’s attendance was a violation.
“Donald Trump was the most corrupt President in history,” Warren said in a statement. “He and his cronies in the administration routinely ignored ethics rules with no accountability for their blatant corruption. We have to rebuild the public’s faith that government officials will follow basic ethics rules.”
Though Hatch Act violations aren’t necessarily uncommon — Jen Psaki violated the law earlier this year during a press conference — the OSC report appears to reveal that the Trump administrations’ violations were an organized effort.
“The crime spree by Donald Trump and his stooges represents the worst corruption to ever infect the America [sic] government,” Pascrell said in a statement praising the release of the OSC report. “They made a mockery of the rule of law by either exploiting yawning gaps in the Hatch Act or simply ignoring it altogether.”
The OSC report largely corroborates reports put together by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Warren’s office. The reports name an additional few dozen Trump officials who violated the act, including Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway. According to the reports, Conway had the most violations, with 35 confirmed Hatch Act violations and at least 50 alleged on Twitter alone.
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