OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki could find herself in some deep trouble now that a watchdog group has filed a complaint against her for allegedly violating the Hatch Act.
“The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” The United States Office of Special Counsel explained on its website.
And the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington believes that Psaki violated that Act this week after she appeared to have endorsed Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor during a White House press briefing, CNN reported.
“I’m curious if the White House sees the Virginia governor’s race as a bellwether — we talked about it a lot in here — and if the outcome is basically a (inaudible) support of the President’s agenda since McAuliffe is running on it quite a bit,” a reporter asked on Thursday.
“I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here, and not, not traipse into that too much,” Psaki said at the briefing, acknowledging that she is legally limited in what she can say in regards to political campaigns.
“Look, I think the President, of course, wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia. There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges, or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce,” the press secretary said.
“I will say as — I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey that off-year elections are often — are often not a bellwether, but — and there’s a lot of history here in Virginia. But, again, we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing,” she said.
CREW took issue with that particular answer, saying in a news release that Psaki acknowledged the limitations that the Hatch Act puts on the statements she could make from the podium. However, the group believed that she stepped over the line with her comment.
The group noted in its release that Donald Trump’s White House routinely ignored violations of the Hatch Act, most notably from senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who violated the rule so frequently the Office of Special Counsel recommended she be removed from federal service.
“The last administration systematically co-opted the government for the president’s reelection. While this conduct does not come close to rising to the level of the outrageous offenses of the Trump administration, that does not mean we should be casual about compliance with an important ethics law,” Noah Bookbinder, the president of CREW, said to CNN, which shows that they are hardly a conservative partisan group. “The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path.”
Psaki talked to CNN anchor Jake Tapper and said that the administration takes ethics seriously, though some have questioned that with the appointment of two of Psaki’s relatives to prominent jobs.
“I take ethics seriously. So does the President, of course,” the press secretary said to Tapper.
“As I understand it, if I had said ‘he’ instead of ‘we,’ that would not have been an issue at all, and I’ll be more careful with my words next time,” she said. “Words certainly matter.”