White House Trade Adviser Violated Hatch Act Multiple Times, Watchdog Finds
The Office of Special Counsel recommended disciplinary action, but the Trump administration has been weak on enforcing the law prohibiting political activity in the federal workplace.
The Office of Special Counsel on Monday determined that White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro violated the Hatch Act multiple times due to political activity during the 2020 campaign, and recommended disciplinary action.
Following numerous complaints from the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, OSC found that Navarro––whose full title is assistant to the president and director of the Office for Trade and Manufacturing Policy––violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political engagement of federal employees while on the job, numerous times from May 26 to October 19. This was through media appearances and his official Twitter account. He is one of many Trump administration officials found to be in violation of the act, although there have been few to no consequences. This also comes as Navarro will be out of a job in less than two months when Trump leaves office.
In using his official platform as a top White House official, “Navarro did more than merely ‘suggest’ that President Trump’s policies were better for voters than Mr. Biden’s policies—he explicitly stated it while arguing that a Biden presidency would be devastating to the U.S. economy,” said OSC in its report. “In addition, Dr. Navarro frequently attacked Joe Biden as a presidential candidate, accusing him of kowtowing to China and being compromised, even nicknaming him ‘Beijing Biden.’ Dr. Navarro also disparaged vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, calling her a mouthpiece who cannot be taken seriously.”
OSC said that Navarro did so despite having been trained on the Hatch Act and while knowing (in most instances) that he was under investigation for allegations of violations of the law. One example OSC cited was from an interview on Fox News on August 28 during which Navarro said:
“What we know about Joe Biden is he is going to do just the opposite and that is going to be slow growth and crash the stock market. He has promised a $4 trillion tax hike. He is going to put more regulations on our farmers, our ranchers, our loggers and our fisherman. He is going to cap every oil well in this country and he wants to go back to the old days with the Trans-Pacific Partnership….What the [Democrats] and Biden want to do is hide in the basement and blame the pandemic on Donald J. Trump...Nobody is buying Joe Biden as tough on China, or Kamala Harris.”
During the investigation, the White House Counsel’s Office stated that Navarro didn’t violate the law because he was making “factual and policy-based statements,” which don’t “constitute advocacy for or against a candidate.” OSC rejected the argument.
“We thank OSC for their thorough investigation and finding of Navarro’s repeated wrongdoing,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election, Navarro has been one of the worst.”
In closing the investigation, OSC sent the report to Trump to decide on what disciplinary action, if any, he’ll take.
Despite many other Trump administration officials found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, in most cases, OSC didn’t recommend disciplinary action, which shows how severe Navarro’s misconduct was, said CREW in its press release.
However, the president has been light on his enforcement because he “has made it clear that ethics rules don’t matter if they’re broken to help him,” Jenna Grande, CREW press secretary, told Government Executive.
In its new report about how the incoming Biden administration and Congress should take up ethics reform in the executive branch, the watchdog recommended increasing OSC’s authority in Hatch Act investigations, increasing monetary penalties for violations and preventing those who repeatedly violate the act from receiving government salaries to serve as a deterrence.