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Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events

Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events
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A Washington-based ethics group filed a request this week to look into possible violations of federal law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation 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.

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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 TrumpAttacks on public figures are growing The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | How Trump could work with a Dem House | Trump heads to Florida to view hurricane damage Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHUD official quits amid Interior Department watchdog controversy Inspector general: Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for his wife Overnight Energy: Inspector general finds Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for family | Interior says Trump appointee won't be new watchdog | EPA chief says agency taking climate report 'very seriously' MORE, Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Political appointee taking over as Interior IG | Change comes amid Zinke probe | White Houses shelves coal, nuke bailout plan | Top Dem warns coal export proposal hurts military The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Stormy Daniels trade fire on Twitter | Three weeks to midterms | Pompeo meets Saudi king White House shelves rescue plan for coal, nuclear: report 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 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis CNN's Acosta sends private message to former Melania Trump aide: 'F--- you' Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns 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 ConwayTrump and Kellyanne Conway's husband spar about columnist Hatch mocks Warren over DNA test with his own results showing '1/1032 T-Rex' Conway responds to Warren DNA test: 'Junk science' that 'really doesn't interest me' 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) HaleyMary Kissel expected to join State Department Scarborough predicts Trump will ‘cash out’ and not run in 2020 Toobin: Flake and Sasse ‘never actually take a stand’ against Trump 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 AmashWatchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE (R-Mich.) in an upcoming primary.

Both Haley and Scavino received warnings from the OSC.

Max Greenwood contributed.