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WH Chief of Staff Slammed for Saying No One Outside of D.C. ‘Really Cares’ About Violations of Federal Ethics Laws

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows raised eyebrows and then some on Wednesday morning when responding to Politico’s questions about general outrage over the Republican National Convention and potential Hatch Act violations by executive branch employees. Meadows said that “nobody outside of the Beltway” really cares about media “hoopla” over the erasing of lines between official acts—like a naturalization ceremony or a pardon—and political activity.

Meadows said (around the 4:15-mark of the video) that, according to Politico Playbook’s own words, no one outside of Washington, D.C. “really cares” about the media and pundit criticism of executive branch employees’ participation in political activity that supports President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Meadows pointed to these lines in Politico:

Here’s something to think about: Of course, much of this is improper, and according to most every straight-faced expert, it’s a violation of the Hatch Act. It’s incumbent about the news media to point that out. But do you think a single person outside the Beltway gives a hoot about the president politicking from the White House or using the federal government to his political advantage? Do you think any persuadable voter even notices?

Anna Palmer said that Meadows took the above out of context.

“Well, we did write that this morning. I just want to make sure because I think it might have been taken out of context a little bit in the sense of—,” Palmer responded.

“I may have reframed it a little bit, I don’t know that I took it out of context,” Meadows responded.

“I want to just be clear that what we were trying to say is—and we have spent a lot of our career working and uncovering malfeasance and people and members of Congress who have broken the law—you don’t think breaking the law is not a big deal,” Palmer said. “But, I do, to your point, we did write that.”

“Oh, no, no, no. And I’m not saying—here’s what I’m saying,” Meadows answered. “Is that when you look at it you can’t break the law, you shouldn’t do it.”

“Here’s what I’m saying is: the law in the way that it was originally intended never thought that we would be on Zoom talking to people live—that all of a sudden that somehow we were going to be able to have this conversation from over in the executive building next to the White House when we were talking about a political thing,” Meadows continued. “It was really designed to stop the cronyism that either Democrats or Republicans tried to do on a regular basis of forcing regular employees to actually become their campaign team.”

Let’s just say that Meadows’s comment about no one caring about this was not received well by a number of lawyers and legal analysts online.

Others pointed out that USPS employees are covered by the Hatch Act; if they were to show up to work wearing Biden-Harris T-shirts, particularly during a time where the mail-in vote is highly politicized, there would certainly be an uproar.

The Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) website, indeed, says that USPS employees are covered by the Hatch Act:

Except for the President and Vice President, all federal civilian executive branch employees are covered by the Hatch Act, including employees of the U.S. Postal Service. Even part-time employees are covered by the Act, and all employees continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, or furlough. However, employees who work on an occasional or irregular basis, or who are special government employees, as defined in title 18 U.S.C. § 202(a), are subject to the restrictions only when they are engaged in government business. Federal employees fall within two categories under the Hatch Act, Further Restricted and Less Restricted.​

Here’s how “Further Restricted” employees are defined and which activities are prohibited:

Further restricted federal executive branch employees are prohibited from engaging in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. Generally, Further Restricted employees are those employed in intelligence and enforcement-type agencies (except employees appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate). More specifically, Further Restricted employees are employed by the following agencies (or components) or in the following positions:

Federal Election Commission;

Election Assistance Commission;

Federal Bureau of Investigation;

Secret Service;

Central Intelligence Agency;

National Security Council;

National Security Agency;

Defense Intelligence Agency;

Merit Systems Protection Board;

Office of Special Counsel;

Office of Criminal Investigation of the Internal Revenue Service;

Office of Investigative Programs of the United States Customs Service;

Office of Law Enforcement of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms;

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency;

Office of the Director of National Intelligence;

Criminal Division of the Department of Justice;

National Security Division of the Department of Justice; as well as

Persons employed in positions described under Sections 3132(a)(4), 5372, 5372 (a), or 5372(b) of Title 5, United States Code, including:

Senior Executive Service [career positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 3132 (a)(4)]

Administrative Law Judges [positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372]

Contract Appeals Board Members [positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372 (a)]

​Administrative Appeals Judges [positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372(b)]​​

[…]

Further Restricted federal employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. Specifically, these employees may not campaign for or against candidates or otherwise engage in political activity in concert with a political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group. Such employees may not:

Be a candidate for nomination or election to public office in a partisan election

Take an active part in partisan political campaigns, by, for example:

Campaigning for or against a candidate or slate of candidates

Making campaign speeches or engaging in other campaign activities to elect partisan candidates

Distributing campaign material in partisan elections

Circulating nominating petitions

Take an active part in partisan political management by, for example:

Holding office in political clubs or parties

Organizing or manage political rallies or meetings

Assisting in partisan voter registration drives

Use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election by, for example:

Using their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity

Inviting subordinate employees to political events or otherwise suggesting to subordinates that they attend political events or undertake any partisan political activity

Solicit, accept or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group by, for example:

Hosting a political fundraiser

Inviting others to a political fundraise.

Collecting contributions or sell tickets to political fundraising functions

Engage in political activity – i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group – while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle. For example, while at work employees may not:

Wear or display partisan political buttons, t-shirts, signs, or other items

Make political contributions to a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group

Post a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group

​Use any email or social media account to distribute, send or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.

Here’s how “Less Restricted” employees are defined and which activities are prohibited:

​Most federal executive branch employees (except those listed under Further Restricted Employees) are considered Less Restricted under the Hatch Act. Less Restricted employees may take an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns.​

[…]

Less restricted federal employees may not:

Use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, by for example:

​Using their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity

Inviting subordinate employees to political events or otherwise suggesting to subordinates that they attend political events or undertake any partisan political activity

Solicit, accept or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group by for example:

Hosting a political fundraiser

Collecting contributions or selling tickets to political fundraising functions*

Be candidates for partisan political office

Knowingly solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of anyone who has business pending before their employing office

Engage in political activity – i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group – while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle. For example, while at work employees may not:

Distribute campaign materials or items

Display campaign materials or items

Perform campaign related chores

​Wear or display partisan political buttons, t-shirts, signs, or other items

Make political contributions to a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group

Post a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group

​Use any email account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.

Still others noted that the White House has simply ignored the enforcement recommendations of the OSC in the past, rendering the Hatch Act toothless (see: Kellyanne Conway).

The reaction on Wednesday morning came hours after a flurry of similar criticisms about the erasing of lines during the Republican National Convention.

[Image via Politico screengrab]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.