White House Aide Violated Hatch Act With Tweet, Special Counsel Finds

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., filed a complaint against Scavino. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., filed a complaint against Scavino. Carolyn Kaster/AP

President Trump’s White House social media guru this week was given a warning from the Office of Special Counsel that he violated the Hatch Act by tweeting a criticism of a House member in the midst of an April primary election.

Dan Scavino Jr., director of social media and assistant to the president, received a letter of reprimand from the independent governmentwide investigative office for having sent a tweet—from the Oval Office—calling Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., “a big liability” and saying that President Trump’s supporters should “defeat him in [the next] primary.”

A complaint against Scavino was filed by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and separately by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They asked OSC to review whether his tweet ran afoul of the Hatch Act’s prohibition on any executive branch employee “us[ing] his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

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The Office of Special Counsel, which educates officials on the Hatch Act and enforces compliance, “has concluded that this activity violated the Hatch Act,” OSC told Carper. “Accordingly, we issued Mr. Scavino a warning letter. In addition, we note that Mr. Scavino was recently counseled by the Office of the White House Counsel,” and was warned that any future willful violation would result in further legal action.

CREW on Friday released a statement noting that Scavino’s April tweet had shown him “standing in the Oval Office next to the official presidential flag, and had a header photograph showing Trump giving a speech behind a lectern with the official presidential seal. After being called out by ethics experts, Scavino removed the photograph with the official seal and changed his Twitter bio to refer to the campaign.”

CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder added: “The rules are clear that government officials aren’t allowed to use their position for campaign activity. OSC has made clear with this ruling that they are going to enforce these important rules and work to keep the government free from inappropriate politics.”

CREW also filed a complaint against Amash with the Office of Government Ethics, saying he used the same Twitter account for his congressional office and his campaign fundraising.

"House rules govern the use of congressional resources, but @justinamash is Rep. Amash's personal account," an Amash spokeswoman said. "It does not use any office or taxpayer resources, nor can his staff access the account. The office's official account is @amashoffice."

Carper cited the case in a statement addressed to Trump’s recent nominee to replace Carolyn Lerner as special counsel. He asked former congressional investigator Henry Kerner  to “commit to a serious review of all referrals of potential Hatch Act violations,” and added that “Special Counsel Lerner enjoyed broad bipartisan, bicameral support precisely because she took the responsibilities of the Office of Special Counsel seriously."

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