Government Watchdog Says Karine Jean-Pierre Violated Hatch Act Again But Won’t Face Consequences
- December 1, 2023
OSC Finds KJP and her deputy acted “contrary” to warning letter and government-wide guidance but recommends no disciplinary action
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is a repeat offender of the Hatch Act, as determined by a federal watchdog. Yet, despite stating after her first violation that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) would consider a repeat offense “a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in OSC pursuing disciplinary action,” OSC declined to impose any consequences.
Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed a complaint with OSC over multiple statements by Ms. Jean-Pierre (KJP) during a press briefing just prior to the 2022 mid-term elections that appeared to violate the Hatch Act. In June 2023, OSC concluded Ms. Jean-Pierre’s statements did in fact violate the Hatch Act but opted to let the Press Secretary off with a warning.
Upon this determination, the OSC issued both a warning letter to KJP as well as sending out formal government-wide guidance identifying “MAGA” and other political slogans officially off-limits for federal officials on government time or in official communications. Publicly defying the guidance, both KJP and Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates doubled down on the use of the prohibited phrase multiple times the following week. PPT immediately filed a subsequent complaint.
OSC’s actions represent a case study in selective enforcement and will likely contribute to the perception of double standards applied to the Biden administration. In a puzzling letter addressed to PPT and dated in late October, OSC determined that while Ms. Jean-Pierre and Mr. Bates’s actions were “contrary to our June 7 warning letter and advisory opinion,” they “are not pursuing disciplinary action and are closing the matter.” Despite the clear and intentional violations, the letter claimed they now “have reason to believe that White House officials are abiding by the warning letter and advisory opinion.” The dismissal of the clear-cut case comes on the heels of several other instances in which the OSC has downplayed a violation or appeared to cede its statutory duty to enforce the Hatch Act. Recent instances include:
Department of Energy – Secretary Jennifer Granholm
Former Attorney General of Michigan and current Secretary of the Department of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, was found to have violated the Hatch Act during a live interview on Instagram. Granholm made a statement praising the Democratic Party which had recently retained a majority in the U.S. Senate. The OSC issued a warning to Granholm, stating that her actions constituted a violation of the Hatch Act’s prohibition on the use of official authority for partisan political activities. Despite her extensive legal background and long government service, OSC determined that Granholm did not knowingly violate the Hatch Act because she had not received proper training on the federal law before the incident.
National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease – Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci held the position of Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease for nearly four decades. Despite his thirty-eight years of experience with the federal law, Dr. Fauci made politically-charged statements on the eve of the 2020 Presidential elections. While OSC acknowledged that Fauci’s remarks deviated from best practices and were used “to make a political point,” they deemed it a “close call” and refrained from finding that he violated the law.
Department of Justice – Anne Donohue
While working for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and campaigning for a spot on the Loudon County, Virginia School Board, Anne Donohue was found to have violated the Hatch Act. However, despite the violation, no action was taken against her. OSC did not release the determination letter until after her election to the Loudon County School Board, and ultimately decided against any disciplinary measures, citing Donohue’s resignation from her position at the DOJ.
“Since one of the OSC’s primary statutory roles is enforcement of the Hatch Act, this latest episode affirms many long-standing concerns,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, stated. “Specifically, the cowed response to the blatant defiance of the White House’s most public-facing personnel indicates that the OSC may believe certain officials are above the law. More broadly, the office’s repeated lack of enforcement in recent years is likely to contribute to the perceptions both that the Hatch Act need not be taken seriously by officials and that the Office of Special Counsel could more aptly be considered the Office of Selective Enforcement.”