White House advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner should be investigated for violating a federal statute which prohibits electioneering activities by certain executive branch employees, according to a non-profit government watchdog.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a six-page complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Tuesday accusing Kushner of violating the Hatch Act over a recent CNN appearance in which “he advocated for the Trump campaign while appearing in his official capacity on behalf of the Trump administration.”
During a three-part segment with CNN host Fareed Zakaria, Kushner initially discussed a recently-released, much-maligned and dead-on-arrival peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians–which was designed in large part by Kushner himself–before taking up the issue of President Donald Trump‘s reelection.
“I think there’s just a big difference between what the voters see and what the voters want, and from what the–what people maybe in the Washington or in the media are calling for,” Kushner said. “What we’ve seen since the impeachment started is that most people by the way are not paying attention to it. We’ve seen the president’s numbers go up by seven points. We got polling back last night that showed that the president’s approval rating nationally was over 50 percent. It was the highest that it’s been since right after the inauguration.”
Zakaria helpfully pointed out that Trump’s polling average had increased as of late.
To which Kushner replied:
I think it was about 46 percent, but again everything is relative, right? Again there is a lot of polls that were wrong in the last election. I think our data proved to be more right than the public holds and I think that it will continue to be. But I’ll also say about approval, though, is in the last election, when Romney ran, two percent of the people who disapproved of him voted for him. In the last election, 15 percent of the people who disapproved of president — of Donald Trump as a candidate, and they’re voting for him. So look, I think his base is strong, getting stronger. Last night we were in Iowa, we had a massive crowd. We were around in New Jersey this week. About 160,000 people signed up for it. I mean, the energy that I’m feeling today was stronger than what we felt at the end of the campaign last year.
Kushner went on in this vein for some time, repeatedly making statements promoting Trump’s electoral strength, favorably listing off policies enacted by the administration, and bragging about the size of the president’s support base.
Ivanka Trump‘s husband concluded the second segment by saying that Americans should be proud of their president—whether or not they voted for him. A third segment of the interview focused on the recent passage of a trade deal replacing NAFTA as the major framework for trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
According to CREW, it was the second segment during which Kushner committed numerous violations of the Hatch Act.
“Mr. Kushner violated 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) when he appeared on CNN in his official capacity as a White House official and devoted much of the second segment to delivering a pitch for the Trump campaign,” the complaint reads. “There is no doubt that he was appearing in his official capacity, for he repeatedly was identified by his official title and spoke on behalf of the Trump administration about its activities.”
The complaint continues:
During part of that [second] segment, Mr. Kushner appeared on screen above a chyron that identified him as “Senior Adviser to President Trump” but characterized him as talking about “Trump’s Reelection.” His language was that of campaign rhetoric, which included a direct appeal to voters: “And as an American, whether you voted for the president or you didn’t vote for him, I think you can be very proud that you have a president who shows up every day at work, trying to make the country stronger, make our economy better, make our country richer and keeping our country safe.” At one point, he seemed to be trying to build enthusiasm for President Trump’s campaign rallies…
“Jared Kushner, like so many other senior officials in the Trump administration, has shown a complete disregard for ethics laws with a pattern of continuous violations,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a press release. “The tone is set at the top. President Trump has made clear that he will not follow the rules himself or discipline those in his administration who do not, and his top advisors are acting accordingly.”
Speaking of those other officials, the OSC found White House counselor Kellyanne Conway guilty of several Hatch Act violations late last year. Punishment by the White House, however, was lacking, so CREW filed a lawsuit demanding Conway be fined and removed from her position.
Tuesday’s complaint references that prior case and claims that Kushner’s behavior was essentially indistinguishable from Conway’s.
Again the complaint:
[Kushner’s] conduct parallels OSC’s description of Hatch Act violations that Ms. Conway committed during televised interviews. In a report on Ms. Conway’s misconduct, OSC found that “while speaking in her official capacity, Ms. Conway also engaged in campaign rhetoric, remarking on the strength of President Trump’s candidacy and/or the weaknesses of the Democratic Party’s candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.”
Hatch Act violations are frequently downplayed by the media and the Trump administration has not signaled a willingness to see that sanctions for violating the statute are meted out. Therefore, the complaint against Kushner is likely to be viewed as yet another optics problem for an administration viewed by its critics as corrupt and lawless.
“Kushner’s blatantly political behavior while acting in his official capacity is a clear violation of the Hatch Act. The rules are in place to prevent the powers of the federal government from being used to unfairly benefit any candidate, and it is about time this administration started to follow them,” Bookbinder added.
Read CREW’s full complaint below:
[image via Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images]