Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is being looked at over a possible Hatch Act violation related to a tweet about socks he wore with the “Make America Great Again” slogan, and there may be some confusion over who’s investigating him.
— The Hill (@thehill) July 10, 2018
The Hill tweeted that “Special Counsel” is investigating Zinke for a possible ethics violation, but before you get worked up about how Robert Mueller‘s investigation has gotten so off course that it’s now literally digging through cabinet members’ sock drawers, it should be noted that this is not the Special Counsel’s office that is investigating possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. The body that is looking into Zinke is the similarly named Office of Special Counsel.
The OSC is an independent federal agency that investigates and prosecutes violations of the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act, and the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act, which is at issue here, is geared towards ensuring that federal employees remain nonpartisan in their official duties. Back in 2016, Obama administration Secretary of Housing and Urban Developmen Julian Castro was found in violation for remarks he gave about presidential candidates during an interview.
Zinke’s tweet, which has since been deleted, said, “Breaking in new socks on a hike with the governors today,” with a picture of the socks, according to a complaint filed by watchdog group Campaign for Accountability. After removing the tweet, Zinke tweeted an apology, noting the potential issue that the slogan could pose. He later deleted the apology tweet as well.
OSC put out guidance on March 5, 2018 that specifically says, “while on duty or in the workplace, employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan “Make America Great Again” or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns[.]”
Additionally, a social media guide published by OSC says:
Rule: Employees may not use a social media account designated for official purposes to post or share messages directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group. All such official social media accounts should remain politically neutral.
An OSC spokesperson told CNN, “I can confirm that OSC received the complaint and has opened a case file,” but could not comment further.
Violations of the Hatch Act can result in punishments including removal or suspension from office, fines, or letters of reprimand.
[Image via Fox News screengrab]