December 3rd 2023.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is accused of violating the Hatch Act by a conservative watchdog group called Protect the Public Trust. The complaint was submitted to the Office of Special Council, who sent Jean-Pierre and White House spokesman Andrew Bates letters. According to The Hill, former Trump administration official Michael Chamberlain is running this group.
The Hatch Act is a law that forbids any federal employee from engaging in political activity while on duty in their capacity as a federal employee. As reported by NBC News, an October letter from the OSC warned that the use of the term “MAGA” was considered a campaign-related slogan.
In the June complaint, Chamberlain noted that the OSC had advised Jean-Pierre against engaging in prohibited political activity and that it would be seen as a "knowing and willful violation of the law." He further noted that it was highly unlikely that the phrase “MAGA” appeared in two separate White House Press Office documents by accident.
Chamberlain went on to express his belief that the OSC's refusal to punish Jean-Pierre indicated that the Hatch Act is not taken seriously. He told NBC News, “Apparently, nobody takes the Hatch Act very seriously, at least nobody that matters. Ms. Jean-Pierre cites it frequently to avoid tough questions, but when she and her deputy received the initial warning from OSC, they doubled down.”
The enforcement of the Hatch Act for top officials is considered impossible, while lower-level federal employees are often punished for running afoul of the OSC’s rules. In 2021, members of the Trump administration were under scrutiny for possible violations of the Hatch Act multiple times, culminating in a November 2021 report calling their behavior “especially pernicious” and saying their actions “appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch.”
Trump’s one-time political advisor Kellyanne Conway was charged by the OSC with 12 separate violations of the Hatch Act, but then-President Donald Trump ignored the OSC’s recommendation to fire Conway. According to Donald Sherman, the deputy director of CREW, the Trump administration’s top officials committed numerous Hatch Act violations, but were insulated by Trump.
Sherman noted that Trump was dismissive of the Hatch Act and that this administration had committed Hatch Act violations of a greater scope, scale and frequency than any administration in recent memory. It is clear that the issue of whether or not the Hatch Act is taken seriously is still a contentious one.
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