Karine Jean-Pierre Violated Hatch Act, Investigation Concludes, But OSC Oddly Closes Case
- June 13, 2023
White House Press Secretary’s repeated “mega MAGA Republicans” statements constituted prohibited political activity, yet she avoids penalty
Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). PPT filed a Hatch Act complaint in November 2022 based on statements Jean-Pierre made in the leadup to the 2022 midterm elections.
“Ms. Jean-Pierre used the phrase ‘MAGA Republicans’ repeatedly during official press briefings,” according to OSC, and, “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.
Despite its own finding, however, OSC is declining to pursue the matter. The Hatch Act has received some attention in recent years as other high-ranking officials have been deemed to have violated the law, and the rationale for the abrupt closing of OSC’s investigation “without further action” is likely to raise some eyebrows. OSC Hatch Unit Chief Ana Galindo-Marrone wrote that despite the clear and repeated violation of the law by Ms. Jean-Pierre, the “White House Counsel’s Office did not at the time believe that [her] remarks were prohibited…and it is unclear whether OSC’s contrary analysis regarding the use of ‘MAGA Republicans’ was ever conveyed to Ms. Jean-Pierre.”
The conclusion that disagreement from the President’s attorneys can override the OSC’s official interpretation seems like an odd deferral of authority in what has historically been an area in which OSC has claimed sole discretion. Further, Ms. Jean-Pierre’s awareness of OSC’s competing analysis, or lack thereof, is yet another unusual factor in OSC’s determination to close the case. Those officials previously found to have violated the Hatch Act are likely to consider the lack of action confirmation of a double standard for officials serving in different administrations.
OSC did, however, “advise 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.”
“Karine Jean-Pierre’s repeated efforts to condemn political opponents leading up to last year’s midterms were a clear violation of the Hatch Act, even one the Office of Special Counsel could not ignore,” stated Protect the Public’s Trust Director Michael Chamberlain. “We are glad that there remains some interest in investigating misconduct within the highest levels of government. Officials are supposed to exercise their authority for the benefit of all Americans, not act as an arm of a political party. 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. This episode provides yet another example why the American public’s trust in its government continues its downward spiral.”