A federal watchdog agency has closed its investigation into whether NASA’s chief administrator violated the law when he urged an audience to support former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
But the Office of Special Counsel sent a warning letter to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, saying he should have used better judgment, even if he did not break a law against using official authority to influence an election.
“Everybody needs to abide by these prohibitions, but we expect high level officials to provide a better example,” the agency said in the letter.
Separately, the agency found that NASA officials did violate the law when they allowed a speech by Sen. John Kerry at the Kennedy Space Center to be broadcast and played over the Internet to workers at the facility. Kerry was running for president at the time, in July 2004.
Because NASA officials were given incorrect legal advice allowing the broadcast, their only punishment will be to educate their work force and contractors about the law, the agency said.
The Office of Special Counsel investigated Griffin after the administrator’s remarks last March to an audience at a Rotary Club banquet in Houston near DeLay’s district. Griffin had been introduced by the Republican congressman, who at the time was seeking re-election and was under indictment for alleged violations of campaign-finance rules.
“The space program has had no better friends in its entire existence than Tom DeLay,” Griffin said. “He’s still with us, and we need to keep him there. There just are no better people.”
The remarks by Griffin could have been viewed as an endorsement of DeLay, but the Office of Special Counsel found no intent on Griffin’s part to influence the election. Federal employees found to have violated the law can be removed from their position.
“We thought it was a very close call,” Special Counsel Scott Bloch told The Associated Press.
Griffin had no intention of making a political endorsement, said David Mould, NASA’s assistant administrator for public affairs.
Griffin has acknowledged that his words did not properly convey his intended meaning, Mould said. “He regrets the controversy it has caused. He is happy the case is now closed.”