Federal investigators probing possible Whitaker Hatch Act violations

Federal investigators are investigating whether acting Attorney General Matt WhitakerMatthew G WhitakerEx-federal prosecutor: 'Thank God' Whitaker is gone, Barr will bring 'integrity' back to DOJ GOP pollster says Dems are relitigating 2016 election with investigations of Trump Former senior FBI official calls Whitaker hearing ‘disgraceful’ MORE violated federal law after it was revealed his failed 2014 Iowa Senate campaign received thousands of dollars of donations in January and February of this year. 

The investigators are probing whether Whitaker’s accepting of the donations, amounting to $8,800, violated the Hatch Act’s prohibitions on political activities by federal employees.

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A spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel confirmed to CNN that it had received a complaint from the watchdog organization American Oversight and a case file had been opened. The office has the power to investigate Hatch Act violations and determine possible reprimands, but cannot take disciplinary action itself, according to CNN.

"After years of being completely dormant and only after he joined [former Attorney General] Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Some statements about him in Mueller report are 'total bulls---' Colbert hits Trump after Mueller report: Innocent people don't say 'I'm f---ed' The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? MORE' office as chief of staff, Whitaker's campaign started receiving a cluster of contributions," Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, told CNN. "It appears to violate the black-letter law of the Hatch Act." 

Neither the Office of Special Counsel nor the Department of Justice immediately responded to requests for comment from The Hill. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency separate from the Justice Department special counsel's office probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

William Gustoff, the former treasurer for Whitaker's Senate campaign, told CNN that neither he nor Whitaker had solicited the donations and that the campaign committee remained open to deal with remaining debt. 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Senators press drug industry 'middlemen' over high prices MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former federal prosecutor, also asked the Office of Special Counsel Wednesday to investigate Whitaker for Hatch Act violations stemming from the donations.

“The Hatch Act places limitations on the ability of executive branch employees to participate in political activities,” Whitehouse said in a press release. “On their face, the political contributions to Whitaker’s campaign fund violate the Hatch Act. Whitaker had been in his position at [the Justice Department] three months before these contributions were made to his campaign committee and should be presumed to have been advised of his responsibilities under this law.”

The donations constitute the latest controversy surrounding Whitaker. He has faced bipartisan criticism for past comments criticizing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation, which he now oversees. The comments have revived calls from senators in both parties for the Senate to pass legislation protecting Mueller from being unjustly dismissed, now that Whitaker oversees Mueller's investigation as head of the Justice Department.