Trump officials campaigned illegally during tenure, watchdog says
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WASHINGTON – Thirteen of President Donald J. Trump’s most senior aides – including his son-in-law and chief of staff – illegally campaigned for Mr. Trump’s re-election in violation of a law designed to prevent federal employees from abusing the government. power of their offices on behalf of the candidates, a government watchdog agency said on Tuesday.
Henry Kerner, who heads the Office of Special Counsel, made the claim in a scathing report that followed a nearly year-long investigation into a “myriad” of violations of the law, known as the Hatch Act.
“Senior officials in the Trump administration have chosen to use their official authority not for legitimate government functions, but to promote President Trump’s re-election in violation of the law,” the report concludes.
Investigators in Mr. Kerner’s office said Trump administration officials deliberately violated the law banning political activity in the administration’s final weeks, despite knowing the special counsel’s office failed would not have time to investigate and release findings before election day.
“The administration’s willful disregard for the law was particularly pernicious given the timing of many of these violations,” the report said.
Hatch law violations are not uncommon for any presidential administration. In October, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, apologized after an outside group accused her of breaking the law by commenting in the White House press room on the race of the governor pending in Virginia.
But the Kerner Report describes something rarer: a concerted and deliberate effort to break the law by top White House officials. The Washington Post revealed the report’s publication earlier on Tuesday.
The people accused of breaking the law are the who’s who of Trump officials: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette; Kellyanne Conway, advisor; Alyssa Farah, director of communications for the White House; David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel; Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor; Kayleigh McEnany, press secretary; Mark Meadows, Chief of Staff; Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor; Brian Morgenstern, Deputy Press Secretary; Robert C. O’Brien, National Security Advisor; Marc Short, chief of staff to the vice-president; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
The report says Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Wolf violated the law by their actions at the Republican National Convention, which was held at the White House due to the pandemic.
He said Mr. Pompeo campaigned illegally “by changing the policy of the United States Department of State (Department of State) to allow himself to speak at the convention and then, when he engaged in political activity by making this speech, using official authority by repeatedly referencing the work of the State Department.
Mr. Wolf “violated the Hatch Act by presiding over a naturalization ceremony that was orchestrated for the purpose of creating content for the convention,” the report said.
The rest of the officials broke the law by openly campaigning “in official interviews or in media appearances.”
“The administration’s attitude towards Hatch Act compliance was succinctly captured by then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who said in an interview that” no one outside Beltway doesn’t really care “about Trump administration officials violating the Hatch Act,” the report said in its summary.
Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, who has filed complaints about the actions of officials in the Trump administration, welcomed the Office of the Special Counsel’s report on Tuesday.
“This report confirms that there has been nothing less than a systematic co-opting of powers from the federal government to keep Donald Trump in power,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “Senior officials in the Trump administration have shown an open disregard for the law intended to protect the American people from the use of taxpayer resources and government power for partisan political purposes.”
Mr. Bookbinder called on Congress to toughen laws banning political activities by federal employees.
The report of the Office of the Special Counsel notes that none of the appointees will be punished for their violations, as it is up to the outgoing president to discipline his key employees.
“President Trump not only failed to do so, but he also publicly defended an OSC employee who repeatedly violated the Hatch Law,” the report said. “This failure to impose discipline created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive.”
Emails to several representatives of Mr. Trump have not been answered.
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