Political Scandals

Government watchdog: White House press secretary violated Hatch Act

Jean-Pierre was found in violation of the law when she repeatedly referenced "mega MAGA Republican officials" days before the 2022 midterm elections.

Government watchdog: White House press secretary violated Hatch Act
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Susan Walsh / AP
SMS

A government watchdog says White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has violated a federal law that intends to prevent federal employees from using their position of power to attempt to influence elections.

According to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act last November when she made derogatory comments about Republicans during a White House press briefing days before the 2022 midterms.

"Unfortunately, we have seen mega MAGA Republican officials who don't believe in the rule of law," Jean-Pierre said on Nov. 2. "They refuse to accept the results of free and fair elections and they fan the flames of political violence through what they praise and what they refuse to condemn."

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The conservative watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust filed a formal complaint with the OSC alleging that her comments were "an inappropriate attempt to influence the vote." Following an investigation, the agency determined that Jean-Pierre had made references to generate opposition to Republican candidates. 

"Because Ms. Jean-Pierre made the statements while acting in her officials capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election," the agency wrote in a letter last week, obtained by the Washington Post. 

The OSC said it has issued a warning letter to Jean-Pierre but said the agency will not seek further reprimand or discipline. 

"We have advised Ms. Jean-Pierre that should she again engage in prohibited political activity, OSC would consider it a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in OSC pursuing disciplinary action." 

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Michael Chamberlain, who is director of Protect the Public's Trust, said Jean-Pierre's violation of the Hatch Act is "yet another example" of why public trust in its institutions is on a "downward spiral."

"Officials are supposed to exercise their authority for the benefit of all Americans, not act as an arm of a political party," Chamberlain said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Ms. Jean-Pierre was likely following the lead of her boss, President Biden, who, despite repeated promises to return the country to normalcy and lower the political temperature, has often employed deeply polarizing messages and demeaning slogans targeted at his opponents."

Jean-Pierre has routinely used the Hatch Act as a reason to avoid reporter questions about certain subjects, specifically President Joe Biden's reelection campaign.  

Former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain was also found to have violated the Hatch Act last year after he shared a political message on his official government Twitter account urging users to purchase Democratic merchandise. At the time, Jean-Pierre said "we are not perfect, but our violations have been few."