Karine Jean-Pierre and Subordinate Double-down on Hatch Act Violation

Karine Jean-Pierre and Subordinate Double-down on Hatch Act Violation

  • June 16, 2023
Watchdog calls for OSC investigation of Jean-Pierre and Bates ‘knowing and willful’ Hatch Act violations

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the White House Counsel’s Office requesting an investigation into Hatch Act violations by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates. This comes on the heels of an NBC News story earlier this week, reporting that an OSC investigation concluded Ms. Jean-Pierre had violated the Hatch Act in the leadup to the 2022 midterm elections.

In the 2022 violations, Ms. Jean-Pierre repeatedly used the phrase “MAGA Republicans” while disparaging those candidates, and “OSC concluded that the timing, frequency, and content of Ms. Jean-Pierre’s references to ‘MAGA Republicans’ established that she made those references to generate opposition to Republican candidates.” Accordingly, “Ms. Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act,” which prohibits using official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election. OSC warned, “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.” OSC simultaneously issued guidance to agency officials that “federal employees should not use ‘MAGA’ or ‘Make America Great Again’ while on duty.”

Yet on June 14, 2023, Ms. Jean-Pierre issued a statement that disparaged Congressional Republicans’ budget proposals by repeatedly using the term “MAGA.” Worse, Axios.com reported that also on June 14, “Andrew Bates [Jean-Pierre’s subordinate] wrote in a memo that Republicans’ ‘main economic agenda item’ is ‘MAGA tax welfare for the richest Americans and giant corporations …’” These violations come one week after the OSC guidance to federal employees clearly prohibiting use of the campaign slogan while on official duty and days after a media firestorm highlighting the controversial press secretary’s violation.

The actions of both officials appear to be the result of a deliberate, and possibly coordinated, decision to flout OSC’s guidance and OSC’s ability to speak with any authority on the Hatch Act. It also appears to escalate a growing feud between the White House lawyers and OSC staff over what standards apply to White House officials’ conduct and who the ultimate arbiter is over the Hatch Act.

“This was a political temper tantrum,” said PPT Director Michael Chamberlain. “These statements appear to be nothing less than a deliberate thumb in the eye to OSC and a clear indication that White House Press Office personnel don’t believe the rules apply to them. There should not be a two-tiered system of government ethics that subjects prominent White House Officials to a lower standard of scrutiny than other average public servants.”