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Pompeo

From left to right: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien are all named as Hatch Act violators in a report published by the Office of Special Counsel on November 9, 2021. (Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images)

Congress Pushed to Pass Fix After Watchdog Finds 13 Ex-Officials Illegally Campaigned for Trump

"Senior Trump administration officials showed an open contempt for the law meant to protect the American people from the use of taxpayer resources and government power for partisan politics."

Brett Wilkins

As federal investigators announced Tuesday that at least 13 senior Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act—a key law restricting campaign activities by government employees—a leading ethics advocacy group responded by calling on Congress to pass the Protecting Our Democracy Act.

"There are significant enforcement challenges to enforcing the Hatch Act. Legislation like the Protecting Our Democracy Act would fix that."

In a 59-page report, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said the Trump administration exhibited a "willful disregard for the Hatch Act" that was "especially pernicious considering the timing of when many of these violations took place."

"The report outlines how the 13 officials used their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of the 2020 presidential election," OSC said in a statement. "Taken together, the report concludes that the violations demonstrate both a willingness by some in the Trump administration to leverage the power of the executive branch to promote President [Donald] Trump's reelection and the limits of OSC's enforcement power."

Noah Bookbinder, president of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington (CREW), said in a statement Tuesday that "this report confirms that there was nothing less than a systematic co-opting of the powers of the federal government to keep Donald Trump in office. Senior Trump administration officials showed an open contempt for the law meant to protect the American people from the use of taxpayer resources and government power for partisan politics."

The 13 former Trump administration officials named in the OSC report are: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, senior presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House adviser Stephen Miller, White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence Marc Short, and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

"In each of these instances, senior administration officials used their official authority or influence to campaign for President Trump," the report states. "Based upon the Trump administration's reaction to the violations, OSC concludes that the most logical inference is that the administration approved of these taxpayer-funded campaign activities."

Violations include Pompeo addressing the 2020 Republican National Convention live from Jerusalem, Wolf administering oaths to newly naturalized U.S. citizens in a broadcast during the convention, and Conway, Miller, and others promoting Trump's reelection during television appearances.

It was an especially rough day for McEnany and Miller, who were also served subpoenas Tuesday by a congressional committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

The OSC investigation also found that presidential adviser Ivanka Trump violated the Hatch Act by using her Twitter account "for substantial official government activity and also to promote numerous candidates for partisan political office."

"However," it added, "the lack of any regulations or examples addressing the use of social media accounts for political activity," and the fact that the former president's eldest daughter used her personal Twitter profile, kept her off the list of 13 violators.

The report lists "statutory amendment" as a possible way to overcome significant barriers to enforcement enumerated in the paper. Proponents argue the Protecting Our Democracy Act—a measure introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and backed by over 150 groups that would prevent future presidential abuses of power, restore checks and balances, and protect elections from foreign interference—would do just that.

"OSC notes that there are significant enforcement challenges to enforcing the Hatch Act," said Bookbinder. "Legislation like the Protecting Our Democracy Act would fix that. Congress must act now so that this never happens again."


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