The federal government office charged with enforcing ethics clarified its role in monitoring Hatch Act violations in light of so much media attention on complaints about the Republican National Convention and said certain areas of the White House are available for political activities.
U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has jurisdiction to enforce the Hatch Act, a 1939 federal law that limits federal executive branch employees from engaging in political activities while on the job, but exempts the president and vice president from violations.
Democrats and government watchdogs have fumed over Trump holding RNC activities at the White House and raised various alarms, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making a convention speech while on a diplomatic trip to Jerusalem to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf conducting an immigrant naturalization ceremony at the White House with Trump during the RNC.
The Office of Special Counsel released a statement Wednesday saying the Justice Department is in charge of criminal provisions of the Hatch Act and the office will not be “grandstanding” about potential violations.
Under longstanding regulations governing the Hatch Act, the office said there are certain areas of the White House where federal employees are not prohibited from engaging in political activity.
“The West Lawn and Rose Garden are two such areas. Therefore, covered federal employees would not necessarily violate the Hatch Act merely by attending political events in those areas,” the statement said.
The Office of Special Counsel made clear it won’t be holding press conferences to warn of potential violations with the RNC and signaled its role will be to investigate complaints.
“OSC’s role does not include grandstanding or holding press conferences about potential violations that may or may not occur,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said in a statement. “Ultimately, officials and employees choose whether to comply with the law. Once they make that choice, it is OSC’s statutory role to receive complaints, investigate alleged Hatch Act violations, and determine which ones warrant prosecution.”
Kerner added: “OSC holds officials and employees accountable when they don’t comply with the law. OSC takes its job seriously and in recent months has increased the number of Hatch Act Unit staff to respond to the growing number of complaints typically received during election years. OSC will continue to vigorously and even-handedly enforce the Hatch Act, consistent with its statutory authorities.”
The comments come shortly after Dr. Ben Carson said Wednesday he favors a “modification” of the Hatch Act, the ethics law that has gotten special attention this week with President Trump hosting RNC activities at the White House and beyond.
Carson stopped short of calling for a repeal of the Hatch Act, but said he favors “certainly a modification.”
“I’m always in favor of things that make sense,” Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, told the Washington Post Live. “Logic and common sense. That’s what I’m in favor of.”
In previewing his RNC speech, Carson, a former presidential candidate, signaled he’d avoid getting political because “I’m not really interested in violating the Hatch Act.”
But the former pediatric neurosurgeon said it’s time to rethink the Hatch Act.
“You know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Carson said.
“I think the overall goal [of the law] is good. I think, perhaps, the way that it is interpreted is sometimes out of bounds,” Carson added.