Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks during a press briefing at the White House in June.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks during a press briefing at the White House in June. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Energy Secretary Received a Warning Following a Hatch Act Violation; Republicans Want More Information

A department spokesperson said this was “a single unintended and unknowing infraction and this complaint is now closed.”

The Energy Department secretary was let off with a warning following a Hatch Act violation that occurred last fall, but now a pair of House lawmakers wants more information on the situation.

The nonprofit Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust––which was formally run by Matthew Whitaker before he served in the Trump Justice Department and is known to target Democrats with its investigations–– filed two complaints with the Office of Special Counsel alleging Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the Hatch Act during an Instagram live interview with Marie Claire in October as well as when she used her official Twitter account to urge Maine residents to vote against a certain ballot question. The Hatch Act limits the political activity of government employees while on the job. 

“OSC has concluded that Secretary Granholm engaged in political activity when she gave this response promoting the electoral success of the Democratic Party” during the Marie Claire interview, wrote Erica Hamrick, deputy chief for OSC’s Hatch Act unit, in a letter to the nonprofit on June 9. However, “the evidence gathered during our investigation does not support the conclusion that it was a knowing violation.” 

At another point in the interview the secretary noted she was subject to the Hatch Act, so could not advocate for people to call their members of Congress. 

Nevertheless, OSC found that before the interview she hadn’t “received significant training about the Hatch Act’s use of official authority prohibition.” She has since then, Hamrick continued. OSC closed the file on this matter by issuing a warning letter to Granholm.

As for the tweet, OSC found that was not a violation of the Hatch Act because “it was directed at the success or failure of a ballot question and not at a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office,” wrote Hamrick. 

“The Office of Special Counsel has advised the secretary of a single unintended and unknowing infraction and this complaint is now closed,” said David Mayorga, director of public affairs for the Energy Department, told Government Executive. “Secretary Granholm takes her ethics obligations seriously. And she remains laser focused on delivering President Biden’s equitable clean energy agenda which will help lower energy costs for American families and enhance our nation’s security.” 

Following these findings, Reps. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Ralph Norman, R-S.C., ranking member on the committee’s environment panel, sent a letter to Special Counsel Henry Kerner on Tuesday requesting more information on the situation. 

They asked for all documents (including emails) on OSC’s investigation into the Hatch Act violation by July 26 as well as a briefing for Republican committee staff by July 19.

Comer and Norman said OSC’s finding that Granholm didn’t receive significant Hatch Act training was “concerning” following an Insider report in January that she violated a federal conflict-of-interest law by reporting improperly up to $250,000 in stock sales (the secretary later acknowledged she paid $400 in late fees and a department spokesperson said this was an unintentional clerical issue, as Insider also reported). The lawmakers also said this “raises questions about whether Cabinet-level officials are receiving appropriate training about ethical obligations.” 

OSC cannot confirm or deny investigations when they result in a warning letter, but OSC did receive the letter from the House Oversight Republicans and will work with them on their request, Zac Kurtz, OSC spokesperson, told Government Executive on Wednesday.