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White House press secretary acted ‘contrary’ to Hatch Act, watchdog says

Two top White House spokespeople violated the Hatch Act by repeatedly using the term “MAGA” to refer to some Republicans, a watchdog agency found — though the organization did not recommend disciplinary action.

The independent Office of the Special Counsel said the spokespeople failed to comply with the law, designed to limit the political activity of government employees, when they slammed “MAGA” Republicans for their budget proposal in June.

The phrase, which stands for “Make America Great Again,” is former president Donald Trump’s signature slogan. He continues to use it as he runs for president again.

The OSC’s letter, dated Oct. 19 and first reported Friday by NBC News, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Andrew Bates, a deputy press secretary, acted against the law by using “MAGA” on June 14 — a week after the OSC warned Jean-Pierre not to use the acronym. The OSC also issued broad guidance establishing that the use of “MAGA” is considered political activity because it is the campaign slogan of a candidate for office.

Because neither Jean-Pierre nor Bates appears to have used the term since mid-June, however, OSC said in its letter that it was closing its probe.

“Please rest assured that we will continue to monitor the situation and reserve the right to reopen these cases,” the OSC wrote to Michael Chamberlain, a former Trump administration official who runs a conservative government watchdog group. The organization, Protect the Public’s Trust, had asked OSC to open an investigation into the matter.

In a statement Friday, Chamberlain said the OSC was failing to hold Jean-Pierre and her colleagues accountable.

“It is deeply disappointing that the spokesperson for the self-proclaimed most ethical administration in history, who constantly invokes the Hatch Act to swat away uncomfortable questions, has so brazenly and repeatedly violated it,” he said. “The American public has been inundated with statements claiming that ‘no one is above the law,’ yet it appears that she is among a select group who are.”

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said, “We take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act.”

Bates most recently used the phrase “MAGA” on Monday, when he said in a statement that congressional Republicans have shown that the goal of “MAGAnomics” is tax breaks for special interests. The OSC, however, has said that term does not violate the Hatch Act because the Trump administration used it to brand its economic policies.

The Hatch Act also became an issue for that administration, during which the OSC accused White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and trade adviser Peter Navarro, among others, of violations. The OSC also said more than a dozen top Trump officials had violated the act ahead of the 2020 elections.

The OSC has limited power to enforce the Hatch Act, and the law is rarely brought to bear against high-ranking officials.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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