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House Democrats request probe into potential Hatch Act violations during RNC

Trump touts "law and order" message
Trump touts "law and order" message in RNC acceptance speech 13:36

Washington — House Democrats are requesting an investigation into whether Trump administration officials violated a federal law prohibiting certain political activities by government employees during the Republican National Convention last month by leveraging their positions to bolster President Trump's reelection campaign.

In a letter to the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC), the federal agency that investigates potential violations of the Hatch Act, the lawmakers also questioned the use of the White House as a backdrop during the convention.

"Throughout the Convention, Administration officials repeatedly used their official positions and the White House itself to bolster President Trump's reelection campaign," the letter, spearheaded by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, said. They lawmakers said they "are particularly concerned with the consequences of White House actions on career employees who may have felt pressured to help organize and put on these events, potentially subjecting them to legal jeopardy."

2020 Republican National Convention
President Trump delivers his acceptance speech as the 2020 Republican presidential nominee during the final event of the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on August 27, 2020. CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS

The Hatch Act bars executive branch officials from engaging in certain partisan political activity, although it does not apply to the president or vice president. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows recently told Politico that "nobody outside of the Beltway really cares" about the Hatch Act, in response to concerns that administration officials violated the law by speaking at the convention. 

The president is ultimately responsible for imposing penalties for Hatch Act infractions, and he has looked the other way in the past when White House officials have been accused of violating it. Mr. Trump last year ignored a recommendation by the OSC that then-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be terminated for repeated violations of the statute.

Before the convention, lawyers at the OSC gave Mr. Trump the green light to deliver a speech at the White House accepting the GOP nomination, but said White House officials could not assist with the event while on duty or while on federal property.

The letter by Maloney and other Democrats also raises concerns about Mr. Trump's participation in a naturalization ceremony on the first day of the convention.

"The ceremony appeared to have been planned and designed as content for the Convention broadcast in support of President Trump's reelection campaign. We are concerned that White House officials who are subject to the Hatch Act may have assisted in planning and carrying out these actions in a manner that violated the law," the letter said. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials participated in the ceremony. Wolf later said he was unaware the ceremony was going to be broadcast as part of the convention.

"The use of the pardon and naturalization ceremonies as part of the Convention make it virtually impossible to separate them from campaign related activity," the Democrats said.

The letter also questioned the use of a video segment aired for the convention where Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Lynne Patton interviewed four New York City tenants. Three of those interviewed were unaware the video would be used at the convention, according to The New York Times.

Maloney and the other Democrats raised concerns about the use of the White House throughout the event, including as a backdrop for speeches by Mr. Trump, Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump.

"These segments raise serious questions about the use of White House employees and resources in coordinating and executing Convention programming," the letter said.

 Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel said before the convention that the Trump campaign and RNC were paying for the production of all convention-related activities.

The letter compares a speech made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the convention to a speech by former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who served in the Obama administration and was found to have violated the Hatch Act for advocating for the Obama campaign in her official capacity.

"Unlike the actions of Secretary Sebelius, Secretary Pompeo's actions were planned in advance and clearly coordinated with the Republican National Committee," the letter said.

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