Legal Analysis

Did Sarah Huckabee-Sanders Just Violate the Hatch Act?

Former White House Ethics lawyer for George W. Bush and University of Minnesota Law Prof. Richard Painter called out Eric Trump on Twitter for sending out a campaign fundraising email that mentioned White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders by her official federal employee title, also telling Huckabee-Sanders to read up on the Hatch Act.

“Sarah Sanders @PressSec: please read the Hatch Act and ask Eric Trump to stop sending me email using your official title to raise money for his father’s and your boss’s campaign,” Painter tweeted Friday morning.

At least two people on Twitter captured a screenshot of the email in question.

“Every time I see our incredible Press Secretary Sarah Sanders go to bat for America against a sea of reporters that do everything they can to try and trip her up, I remember why we do what we do: to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN,” the email from “Eric Trump” reads.

It’s newsworthy because people commenting on Painter’s tweet seem to think this was an “atrocity,” committed by Trump and/or Huckabee-Sanders, that it’s “unbelievable” and that “fil[ing] in court” over it might be necessary.

According to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the purpose of the Hatch Act in limiting political activities of federal employees working in the executive branch is to ensure “programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.​​​​”

The OSC says violations of the Hatch Act can result in “removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal service for a period not to exceed 5 years, suspension, letter of reprimand, or a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.”

Note that it is not a jailable offense.

Among the things listed that a “covered employee” may not do are using email or social media to distribute, send or forward content that solicits political contributions.

Since it is not Huckabee-Sanders herself who is asking for political donations while using her title, or forwarding or sending these emails, but rather the private citizen that is Eric Trump, it seems like a stretch to imply there was a Hatch Act violation.

What could make it rise to the level of a violation is if Huckabee-Sanders gave permission to use her title in this way for the email.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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

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