White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was found to have violated the Hatch Act during official press briefings last year.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) concluded that her comments regarding “mega MAGA Republican officials” and her derogatory statements about the Republican Party were in violation of the Hatch Act, which aims to prevent federal employees from engaging in political activities that could interfere with elections.
The OSC’s investigation found that Jean-Pierre had repeatedly used the phrase “MAGA Republicans” in official press briefings, and her statements were deemed to be an inappropriate attempt to influence the vote.
“Because Ms. Jean‐Pierre made the statements while acting in her official capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election,” the agency wrote in a June 7 letter.
Although she did not explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against Republican candidates, the timing, frequency, and content of her references to “MAGA Republicans” were seen as aimed at generating opposition to Republican candidates, constituting political activity prohibited under the Hatch Act.
The OSC said that Jean-Pierre’s comments were an “inappropriate attempt to influence the vote.”
“We note, in particular, that the White House Counsel’s Office did not at the time believe that Ms. Jean‐Pierre’s remarks were prohibited by the Hatch Act, and it is unclear whether OSC’s contrary analysis regarding the use of ‘MAGA Republicans’ was ever conveyed to Ms. Jean‐Pierre,” the agency wrote.
The OSC did not pursue any disciplinary action against Jean-Pierre but issued a warning letter. The agency said that any future engagement in prohibited political activity by Jean-Pierre would be considered a knowing and willful violation of the law, potentially leading to disciplinary action.
The Hatch Act, which applies to employees within the Executive Office of the President, prohibits the use of official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the outcome of an election. It defines political activity as actions directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office.
Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a group that seeks to ensure government officials abide by the rules, filed a complaint with the OSC over Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Nov. 3, 2022 (pdf). PPT argued that her comments were disparaging President Joe Biden’s political opponents and were clearly made in her role as a White House employee, seeking the defeat of her political opponents in the Republican Party.
“Unfortunately, we have seen mega MAGA Republican officials who don’t believe in the rule of law,” Jean-Pierre said at the Nov. 2, 2022, briefing.
“They refuse to accept the results of free and fair elections, and they fan the flames of political violence through what they praise and what they refuse to condemn.”
Michael Chamberlain, director of the watchdog group, said the comments were “disparaging President Biden’s political opponents.”
He told Henry Kerner, special counsel for the OSC and a Trump appointee, that Jean-Pierre’s statements “were clearly made in her role as an employee of the White House and appear to be political in nature, seeking the defeat of her political opponents in the Republican Party in the upcoming general election less than a week away on November 8.”
Chamberlain said in a statement that the comments were clearly designed to influence voters. The OSC agreed, and while it chose to take no further action beyond a warning letter, said that any further comments would be considered “willful.”
The OSC acknowledged that the White House Counsel’s Office did not believe Jean-Pierre’s remarks were prohibited by the Hatch Act at the time. However, it is unclear whether the OSC’s contrary analysis regarding the use of “MAGA Republicans” was ever conveyed to Jean-Pierre.
PPT alleged that Jean-Pierre’s statement cannot be attributed to “an insufficient knowledge of the restrictions of the Hatch Act,” in part because Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, has previously been found to have violated the Hatch Act. PPT pointed out that Jean-Pierre herself has cited the Hatch Act on several occasions as a justification for avoiding responding to queries from the press corps.
The Epoch Times contacted the White House for comment.