Ethics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act

A government watchdog group on Friday filed an ethics complaint against White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy Biden lays out multi-pronged plan to deal with evolving pandemic White House defends travel ban on African countries MORE, alleging she violated the Hatch Act by appearing to endorse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe during a press briefing.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel requesting an investigation into whether Psaki violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal government employees from engaging in campaign activity in their official capacity.

The complaint cites Psaki's comments during a Thursday press briefing when she was asked whether the White House views the upcoming election in Virginia as a bellwether race. After saying she had to be careful to avoid campaigning from behind the podium, Psaki said "we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing."

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"The last administration systematically co-opted the government for the president’s reelection. While this conduct does not come close to rising to the level of the outrageous offenses of the Trump administration, that does not mean we should be casual about compliance with an important ethics law,” CREW president Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. "The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path."

Psaki, appearing later on Friday on CNN, told Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperOmar calls out Boebert over anti-Muslim remarks, denies Capitol incident took place Republican Rep. Upton unsure if he'll run again Bass calls 'Black pastors' comment during Arbery trial 'despicable' MORE she believes it would not have been an ethics violation had she avoided saying "we" when referring to supporting McAuliffe.

"I take ethics seriously. So does this president, of course," Psaki told Jake Tapper. "And I’ll be more careful with my words next time. Words certainly matter."

The Trump administration was the subject of numerous Hatch Act complaints during its four years in power. 

CREW levied complaints against Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersHow Biden should sell his infrastructure bill Trump expected to resume rallies in June Andrew Giuliani planning run for New York governor MORE Sanders, Kayleigh McEnany, Hogan Gidley, Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsProsecutors say North Carolina woman deserves prison for bringing 14-year-old to Capitol riot Meadows calls Trump's positive COVID-19 test before Biden debate 'fake news' Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE and other staffers for violating the law. McEnany, who served as Trump's press secretary for less than a year, criticized the media on Thursday for failing to call out Psaki's violation of the Hatch Act. 

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The Office of Special Counsel recommended in 2019 that then-White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayChristie says he was unable to reach Trump on Jan. 6 Watchdog cites 13 Trump officials who violated Hatch Act before 2020 election Ethics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act MORE be fired for being a repeat offender, an extraordinary step that then-President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE declined to take.

The office earlier this year determined Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeButtigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Biden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package Black Caucus eager to see BBB cross finish line in House MORE, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, violated the Hatch Act when she weighed in on the 2022 Ohio Senate election during a White House briefing. 

Updated at 4:15 p.m.