Six members of the White House Executive Office of the President violated regulations against government employee political activity, according to a Nov. 30 Office of Special Counsel finding.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government ethics nonprofit, notified the OSC Aug. 10 that they believed 10 employees violated rules laid down in the Hatch Act, which prohibits employees of the federal government from engaging in political activity while at the office, during work hours or acting in their official capacity as federal employees.
The OSC found evidence to support Hatch Act violations in the six of the 10 cases, which all had to do with statements made on official Twitter accounts.
According to the OSC, the following employees all violated Hatch Act rules by tweeting or retweeting #MAGA or Republican Party research: Madeleine Westerhout, executive assistant to the president; Alyssa Farah, press secretary for the vice president; Jacob Wood, deputy communications director for the Office of Management and Budget; Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary; Jessica Ditto, White House deputy director of communications; and Helen Aguirre Ferré, then special assistant to the president and director of media affairs.
The OSC ruled in March that any promotion of “Make America Great Again” or “MAGA” by federal employees would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act, as it is a slogan used by President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election in 2020. Federal employees also cannot promote the electoral success or failure of a political party.
The six individuals were not disciplined for the violations, however, as all agreed to delete the tweets once they were notified by OSC.
“Ms. Ferré deactivated the “@haferre45” Twitter account when she left the White House. And once Mses. Westerhout, Farah and Ditto and Messrs. Wood and Shah became aware that their tweets violated the Hatch Act, they deleted the posts. Thus, 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,” Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the OSC Hatch Act Unit, wrote to CREW in response to their initial notification.
“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.”
But CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder disagreed with the choice to not pursue disciplinary action.
“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 Bookbinder in a news release. “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.”
The four additional officials CREW reported to OSC in August were determined to have either not used language that specifically tied them to campaign slogans or used the language only before the OSC guidance on such slogans were released.