Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics (CREW), a liberal watchdog group, is demanding an investigation into White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for allegedly violating the Hatch Act during a press briefing.
Psaki was asked on Thursday about the gubernatorial race in Virginia between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.
“Look, I think the president, of course, wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia,” Psaki responded, later adding, “But, again, we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing.”
USA Today reported:
CREW addressed a letter to the White House Office of Special Counsel requesting an investigation into whether Psaki violated the Hatch Act — a federal law prohibiting executive branch employees from “activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group.” …
CREW sent a similar letter to the White House Counsel earlier this year after Psaki tweeted Biden “clearly opposes any effort to recall Gavin Newsom.”
Psaki responded to the complaint during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday afternoon, claiming “I take ethics seriously.”
“So does this president, of course,” Psaki claimed. “As I understand it, if I had said he, instead of we, that would not have been an issue at all. And I will be more careful with my words next time. Words certainly matter.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel says the following about the Hatch Act:
The Hatch Act states that employees “should be encouraged to exercise fully, freely, and without fear of penalty or reprisal . . . their right to participate or to refrain from participating in the political process of the nation.” However, to protect the integrity of the civil service system, the Hatch Act imposes limitations on “political activity” by federal executive branch employees.
“Political activity” is defined as “an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group.” 5 C.F.R. § 734.101. With the exception of the President, the Vice President, and members of the uniformed services, federal executive branch employees are subject to the Hatch Act’s terms. 5 U.S.C. § 7322(1). Generally, covered employees may not engage in political activity while on duty. They also may not engage in political activity in a room or building where a federal employee carries out official duties. 5 U.S.C. § 7324(a).
Some political appointees are exempt from this prohibition and may engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace, as long as the costs of such activity are not paid for with funds from the U.S. Treasury. See 5 U.S.C. § 7324(b). Most political appointees, however, are not exempt. Although non-exempt political appointees are generally free to actively participate in partisan political management and campaigns, doing so is not part of their official duties. Therefore, to avoid violating the Hatch Act, they must take care to segregate their political activities from their official agency duties, including when attending briefings about a party’s electoral strategy.
A briefing constitutes “political activity” for Hatch Act purposes if it is intended to convey ways for attendees to participate in or assist a partisan campaign. This type of briefing must take place outside of normal duty hours and away from the federal workplace. This rule applies regardless of whether a party official or federal employee conducts the meeting.
For example, political appointees should not attend briefings, while on duty or in the federal workplace, at which presenters discuss topics such as their party’s electoral strategies in congressional and gubernatorial elections; vulnerable seats the party wants to retain or seats the party is targeting to take from the opposing party; or campaign tactics, e.g., phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.
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