Federal investigators concluded that former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund unveils first midterm endorsements Trump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Watchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership MORE violated the Hatch Act when he tweeted out a picture of himself wearing socks with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, according to a December letter made public on Thursday.
The Hatch Act forbids most federal employees from using their position to promote partisan politics.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is tasked with investigating possible Hatch Act violations, wrote in a December letter that Zinke broke the law when he posted the picture of his socks from his government account and wore them to a government event.
“Secretary Zinke engaged in political activity when he wore the above-referenced socks,” Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act Unit at the Office of Special Counsel, wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability. The letter was first obtained by The Washington Post.
“Because Secretary Zinke wore these socks to an official event and also authorized their display on his official Twitter account, he violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official position to influence an election.”
The Office of Special Counsel confirmed the authenticity of the letter to The Hill.
The former secretary avoided repercussions since he deleted the tweet shortly after learning it could have violated the Hatch Act.
"We do not believe that his violation was willful,” Galindo-Marrone wrote.
Punishments for a Hatch Act violation, which are generally decided by the president, could include a $1,000 civil penalty, a reduction in grade or removal from office.
Zinke received a warning letter on Dec. 20, according to the Post, which came after he submitted his resignation letter but before he officially left his office. He was in the midst of multiple ethics probes when he resigned.
Several other Trump administration officials including White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Christie says Trump, Meadows should have warned him of positive COVID-19 test MORE, principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah and deputy director of communications Jessica Ditto have received warning letters for promoting pro-Trump political messages.
“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” Conway said last month after she was scrutinized over comments she made about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE’s presidential campaign. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
Hatch Act violations are not unique to the Trump White House, though they have risen since he took office.
Presidential hopeful Julián Castro, who served as the Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama, was found to have violated the law in 2016 when he praised Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE during an interview.
Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, reimbursed her travel to North Carolina after she weighed in on the state’s gubernatorial race during an official speech there.