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 PsakiSchumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Biden rushes to pressure Russia as Ukraine fears intensify Pelosi requests all-member briefing on Ukraine 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 TapperMcCaul says US withdrawal from Afghanistan has emboldened Russia on Ukraine Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates Texas Republican: FBI probe into synagogue hostage taker spreads to London, Tel Aviv 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 MeadowsAre the legal walls closing in on Donald Trump? Jan. 6 probe roils Cheney race in Wyoming House has the power to subpoena its members — but does it have the will? 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 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 be fired for being a repeat offender, an extraordinary step that then-President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE declined to take.

The office earlier this year determined Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Biden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package 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.