Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events

Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events
© Getty Images

A Washington-based ethics group filed a request this week to look into possible violations of federal law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE and senior administration officials stemming from their trips to GOP campaign events during official visits.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on Wednesday submitted its request to Henry Kerner of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE. The group announced on Friday that it had called for a review into whether Trump and his aides violated the Hatch Act by using government resources to travel to and participate in official events that supported candidates in partisan elections.

ADVERTISEMENT

CREW noted that a senior White House aide said on a call last month with reporters that various official government events that Trump and his advisers have gone to were part of a coordinated effort to “help Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections.”

The unnamed Trump official on the call listed several high-level officials planning to travel to “purple” states. Cabinet members and senior staff have participated in more than 35 events affecting congressional districts during August, the official said on the call, naming Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Ivanka Trump mourns dead in Ethiopian jet crash MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHUD drafting rule to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing Treasury offers new guidance on opportunity zones HUD chief Carson leaves Dem lawmaker exasperated with answer on LGBT protections MORE, Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Mueller report reveals Russian efforts to sow division over coal jobs | NYC passes sweeping climate bill likened to 'Green New Deal' | EPA official says agency may ban asbestos | Energy Dept. denies Perry planning exit The Hill's 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report The very early, boring Democratic primary: Biden v. Bernie MORE and acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

“The White House’s shocking admission that government officials are using purportedly official events as coordinated political photo opportunities to boost partisan candidates takes the Trump Administration’s disdain for the line between taxpayer-funded government work and politics to a new level,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a statement.

“The planning and coordination of these events must be thoroughly investigated, and the White House must immediately halt the abuse of government resources for political gain and ensure that any improperly used taxpayer funds are appropriately reimbursed," Bookbinder added. 

CREW’s complaint alleges that the officials traveled using taxpayer money under the pretense of attending official government events but also visited political fundraisers.

“The senior White House officials, however, admitted that the true motive for these trips was political,” CREW wrote in the request.

Trump and Vice President Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but CREW noted that if a trip mixes both official and political events, the campaign must reimburse the federal government for taxpayer funds used for unofficial events.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from using their offices and government resources for political purposes.

Those found in violation of the statute can be fined as much as $1,000 and face disciplinary actions such as suspension or termination.

Several members of the Trump administration have been accused of violating the Hatch Act, though none appear to have been fined or disciplined.

Ten Trump officials were named in a complaint filed last month by CREW, which said the officials tweeted their support of Trump as a 2020 candidate for the Republican Party.

First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor Trump dodges media's questions after Mueller report release MORE’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, was accused by CREW in July of violating the federal act by using #MAGA on her official Twitter account.

An investigation from the special counsel in March found that White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? George Conway calls for Congress to remove Trump: He's 'a cancer' Hillicon Valley: Cyber, tech takeaways from Mueller report | Millions of Instagram passwords exposed internally by Facebook | DHS unrolling facial recognition tech in airports | Uber unveils new safety measures after student's killing MORE violated the Hatch Act on two separate occasions, once after using her official position to promote products from Ivanka Trump. Conway refused to acknowledge publicly if she faced a punishment for the violations.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump blocked renomination of Obama-era UN racism official, won't pick a replacement: report Trump says he considered nominating Ivanka to lead World Bank MORE was found to have violated the act by retweeting an endorsement from Trump in October.

Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, violated the act last year after CREW filed a complaint accusing him of encouraging potential GOP challengers to oust Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashBipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Overnight Defense: House votes to end US support for Yemen war | Vote expected to force Trump's second veto of presidency | More Russian troops may head to Venezuela | First 'Space Force' hearing set for next week House ignores Trump veto threat, approves bill ending US support for Yemen war MORE (R-Mich.) in an upcoming primary.

Both Haley and Scavino received warnings from the OSC.

Max Greenwood contributed.