Six White House Employees Violated Hatch Act With MAGA Tweets

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Three months after an ethics nonprofit filed complaints, the Office of Special Counsel on Friday reported that it had reprimanded six Trump White House employees for violations of the Hatch Act.

In a letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Office of Special Counsel’s deputy chief of its Hatch Act Unit revealed that six employees in the Trump White House had received reprimands for using their government Twitter accounts for partisan activity.

Specifically, the six—mostly in the communications office—at different times last spring tweeted or retweeted the abbreviation for Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” as part of longer messages on the economy or foreign policy. They did so after President Trump last February had declared his candidacy for reelection in 2020.

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The violators were Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shaj, Executive Assistant to the President Madeleine Westerhout, Press Secretary for the Vice President Alyssa Farah, Deputy Communications Director for the Office of Management and Budget Jacob Wood, Deputy Director of Communications Jessica Ditto, and Special Assistant to the President and Director of Media Affairs Helen Aguirre Ferré.

Once made aware that their actions violated the Hatch Act, the employees deleted the offending posts, wrote OSC official Erica Hamrick.

“Although we have concluded that these six EOP employees violated the Hatch Act, we have decided not to pursue disciplinary action and are closing their files without further action,” Hamrick wrote. “They all have been advised that if in the future they engage in prohibited political activity while employed in a position covered by the Hatch Act, we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action.”

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was found not to have violated the Hatch Act. His use of “MAGAnomics,” OSC had previously determined, “was not for the purpose of affecting the result of an election but rather to further the administration’s economic agenda” and may continue, the Nov. 30 letter noted.

Also absolved was Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose use of the phrase “Great Again” in a March 6, 2018, tweet about the United States overtaking Russia in oil production did not constitute political activity as charged by CREW.

Similarly found not to have committed violations were Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters, who had retweeted Sanders’ oil message, and Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley. He had used “MAGA” in a tweet on March 5, in which he stated, “It’s always humbling to walk into work at this amazing place. When the morning sun hits the @WhiteHouse & you see the American flag waiving [sic] atop the building, there’s a deep sense of honor, pride & appreciation for this incredible country.”

The OSC found that his tweet had gone out hours before OSC released its revised guidance on Hatch Act responsibilities (updated again on Friday) to reflect Trump’s status as a candidate.

“While we are glad to see the OSC confirm CREW’s findings of Hatch Act violations, warnings have not been enough to deter Trump Administration officials from using their official positions to engage in partisan political activity in direct violation of the law,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, in a statement. “Since the time that these violations were committed, CREW has filed 11 additional Hatch Act complaints against Trump officials. Simply put, OSC must consider additional measures to prevent these rampant abuses.”

Previous Trump administration infractions of the Hatch Act include Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Deputy Assistant to the President and Communications Director for the Office of the First Lady Stephanie Grisham and White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec