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 TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration 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 TrumpTrump, Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, Charlie Kirk among Twitter's most-engaged users Ivanka must recalibrate her paid family leave plan to make it tenable Four names emerge for UN position: report MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Bernie recapture 2016 magic? Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans Trump HUD official: 'I don't care if I'm not supposed to be tweeting during the shutdown' MORE, Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryDems open new front against Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union 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 TrumpTrump, Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, Charlie Kirk among Twitter's most-engaged users The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld dies at 85 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 ConwaySean Spicer joins 'Extra' as 'special DC correspondent' Pat Caddell leaves an indelible mark on the American political landscape Conway casts doubt on whether there will be a Mueller report 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) HaleyNikki Haley slams media for Smollett coverage: 'He played them all for fools' Four names emerge for UN position: report Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job 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 AmashBusiness, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration House approves motion condemning anti-Semitism Schiff: Intel chiefs testimony may ‘undermine’ Trump’s ability to declare emergency for wall MORE (R-Mich.) in an upcoming primary.

Both Haley and Scavino received warnings from the OSC.

Max Greenwood contributed.