Oversight Democrats press for probe into possible Hatch Act violations
House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrats on Thursday called on the Office of Special Counsel to investigate a series of events at last week’s Republican National Convention where government officials appeared to use their official positions to bolster President Trump’s reelection campaign.
That would be a potential violation of the federal Hatch Act, Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and other top Democrats on the panel wrote to Special Counsel Henry Kerner in a letter.
The Democrats pointed to Trump’s pardon during the GOP political convention of Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber who later founded an organization to help former prisoners reenter society. Video was also used during the convention of a White House naturalization ceremony, where Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf presided over the surprise ceremony that gave five immigrants their citizenship.
One of the most egregious violations, Democrats said, was when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered taped remarks from Jerusalem at the Republican convention. He was the first sitting secretary of State to speak at a political convention in 75 years.
“We are particularly concerned with the consequences of White House actions on career employees who may have felt pressured to help organize and put on these events, potentially subjecting them to legal jeopardy,” the Oversight Democrats wrote in their letter. “Career employees have faced severe consequences for behavior far less egregious than what the country witnessed last week.”
Trump and his team, who have made “law and order” the focus of his reelection campaign, are unapologetic for staging much of last week’s political convention at the White House. The campaign has said convention events planned for North Carolina and Florida had to be moved to Washington due to the coronavirus, but Democrats said the president showed a disregard for the law.
“We are alarmed that President Trump and some senior Administration officials are actively undermining compliance with — and respect for — the law,” the Democrats wrote.
The Hatch Act bars public officials from using their official platforms for political purposes, though it includes exceptions for the president and vice president.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the independent agency that enforces the Hatch Act, previously told Democrats that federal employees would not be able to attend or “take part in” a convention event “while they are on duty or in a federal room or building.” However, they could attend if they “take leave” or if the event is held on the White House lawn or in the residence.
Last year, the OSC recommended Kellyanne Conway, then a top aide to Trump, be fired from the White House for Hatch Act violations, but she remained on the job until recently. Conway also spoke during the Republican National Convention but not from the White House.
Oversight Committee Democrats have asked Kerner to respond by Sept. 17. House Democrats on the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees also are pressing for investigations into Hatch Act violations.
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