Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech to the Republican National Convention in August has come under scrutiny by the Office of Special Counsel.
On Monday, Democratic lawmakers announced that the office has launched a probe into Pompeo's remarks, which were recorded while Pompeo was on an official State Department trip to Israel.
Pompeo's speech may have violated the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibits federal government officials from engaging in political activities.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) issued a joint statement on Monday confirming the investigation into Pompeo's potential violation of the act.
"As we get closer to both this year's election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the administration's, and his own, political ambitions," the two lawmakers said in a statement obtained by the Hill.
Pompeo's convention speech is just the latest example of one of Donald Trump's appointees running roughshod over federal ethics laws.
The Hatch Act is meant to prevent executive branch employees — aside from the president and vice president — from engaging in partisan activities at work.
The act prohibits government officials from promoting partisan agendas or encouraging other government employees to promote partisan agendas. The act also forbids officials from making partisan statements while wearing government identifications, working in a government office, or riding in a government vehicle.
At least 14 senior government officials who were appointed by Trump have been cited for violating the Hatch Act.
By comparison, only two officials in President Barack Obama's administration were ever cited for Hatch Act violations. Both offenses were deemed "one-offs" and "very minor" by the office at the time.
This month, the nonpartisan watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that Ivanka Trump violated the Hatch Act eight times in 48 hours — and that number was only counting her tweets.
The Hatch Act specifies that if a government official uses a given Twitter account to promote formal, official interests, that same account cannot be used for political campaigning.
Nonetheless, Ivanka Trump blatantly stumped for her father's reelection in a flurry of tweets sent from her official Twitter account.
On Oct. 8, CREW sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel alleging that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue violated the Hatch Act by leading a chant of "four more years" and making other partisan pro-Trump statements at an official event. The office censured Perdue and required him to reimburse the government for all expenses associated with the event.
In another flagrant Hatch Act violation, Lynne Hatton, an employee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development employee, filmed a video for the Republican convention supporting Trump's reelection. Hatton went as far as filming interviews with HUD tenants for the video — while obscuring the real purpose of the video.
The tenants were shocked and furious when they discovered their video footage was used to boost Trump's reelection. The tenants noted they weren't Trump supporters and didn't appreciate being portrayed as such.
A late August report by CREW also noted other government employees besides Pompeo violating the Hatch Act due to their participation in the RNC.
For instance, speeches by Trump and Melania Trump were problematic since White House aides and employees on duty assisting them could potentially be in violation of the Hatch Act.
Another video played at the convention showed Trump standing next to Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf during a naturalization ceremony. The video raised questions about Wolf indirectly participating in Trump's reelection campaign while acting in an official capacity.
The offenses keep piling up.
A September CREW report cited still more Hatch Act violations by Trump appointees. The report noted that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, trade adviser Peter Navarro, and vice presidential chief of staff Marc Short have all violated the Hatch Act by making partisan, pro-Trump statements during official interviews.
Former senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, in particular, was a repeat offender.
In a June 2019 letter, the office even recommended to the White House that Conway be fired due to her flagrant, repeated Hatch Act violations — around two dozen in total.
Trump ignored the recommendation.
And back in 2017, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson cowrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal denouncing the "Obama-Biden" era and "the left," and claiming that "the Biden-Sanders unity platform calls for reimposing the Obama-Biden dystopian vision of building low-income housing units next to your suburban house."
The strident partisanship of the column — as well as the fact that Carson distributed it through government channels — prompted Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to launch an inquiry into whether Carson had run afoul of the Hatch Act.
In August, Meadows best summed up the Trump administration's attitude toward the Hatch Act.
"Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares," he said. "So listen, this is a lot of hoopla that's being made about things, mainly because the convention has been so unbelievably successful."
Ironically, Meadows' statement about the Trump administration's Hatch Act violations may itself have violated the Hatch Act.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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