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6 Trump officials engaged in political activity that violated Hatch Act

The Office of Special Counsel declined to pursue disciplinary action.
Image: Raj Shah
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on February 8, 2018 in Washington.AFP - Getty Images

A government watchdog agency on Friday ruled that six Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act after they tweeted support for Republicans or President Donald Trump on their government Twitter accounts, but declined to take disciplinary action.

The Office of Special Counsel found that deputy press secretary Raj Shah and five other administration officials violated that act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity, after Citizens for Responsible Ethics, or Crew, filed a complaint this past August.

The independent government agency, which enforces the Hatch Act, determined that Shad violated the law when he tweeted on June 4 linking to research from the Republican National Committee promoting Trump's first 500 days in office.

The now-deleted tweeted said, "Fantastic @RNCResearch release #Winning: 500 Days Of American Greatness" and linked to an RNC webpage outlining the Trump administration accomplishments and included a button to make political contributions to the RNC.

Shah, who is press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' second-in-command, was one of the most senior people the watchdog agency said had violated the law.

The agency said although it concluded Shah and other communication staffers violated the act it declined to pursue disciplinary action and closed their files.

"They all have been advised that if in the future they engage in prohibited political activity while employed in a position covered by the Hatch Act, we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action," the agency said in a letter to CREW.

Other staffers include: Deputy director of communications Jessica Ditto; Madeleine Westerhout, an executive assistant to the president; former director of media affairs Helen Aguirre Ferré; Alyssa Farah, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence; and Jacob Wood, the Office of Management and Budget deputy communications director.

The agency ruled that Ditto violated the law when she used her account to retweet Shah's June tweet. Westerhout, Ferré, Wood, Farah violated the rule by using their official account to tweet or display the president's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan, which is prohibited because the president is still a political candidate. The staffers later deleted the tweets.

Complaints were also filed against Sanders, the press secretary, deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters and OMB director Mick Mulvaney, however, the agency determined that their tweets did not break the law.

The OSC ruled this past March that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act in 2017 when she expressed support for GOP candidate Roy Moore, and against Democratic candidate Doug Jones, in Alabama's special Senate election.

CREW's executive director Noah Bookbinder applauded the ruling in a statement but said there needs to be more done to deter Hatch Act violations.

"While we are glad to see the OSC confirm CREW’s findings of Hatch Act violations, warnings have not been enough to deter Trump Administration officials from using their official positions to engage in partisan political activity in direct violation of the law," said Bookbinder. "Since the time that these violations were committed, CREW has filed 11 additional Hatch Act complaints against Trump officials. Simply put, OSC must consider additional measures to prevent these rampant abuses."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.