US immigration officials accused of violating Hatch Act by ‘campaigning’ for Trump ahead of election

Trump administration officials with the Department of Homeland Security have been accused of violating federal law by appearing to campaign for President Donald Trump while on the job on the eve of the presidential election. 

Under the Hatch Act of 1939, federal executive branch employees are generally forbidden from engaging in partisan political activities while acting in a professional capacity. 

The Act was introduced in large part to help ensure that federal service is not impacted by political pressure or loyalty to a particular party or candidate. 

Originally billed as a press conference to address Twitter’s alleged “censorship” of DHS officials, the event was also touted by the DHS as an opportunity to “separate fact from myth when it comes to reporting on the accomplishments of the department under the Trump administration”.

Throughout the conference, both Cuccinelli and Morgan repeatedly championed Trump for his leadership, with the former official praising “President Trump’s diplomatic leadership” while admonishing “social medial platforms, so-called legacy newspapers and countless talking heads on television” for “having unfairly criticized this president for simply doing what he said he would do.”

Meanwhile, the latter appeared to address the possibility of the press conference being in violation of the Hatch Act head-on at one point, asserting that the comments made at the event were “very much an apolitical statement.”

“When I say that this president listened and this president delivered, that’s just a fact,” Morgan said. 

Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill 4 August, 2020 in Washington, DC. Cuccinelli championed President Donald Trump during a press conference on the eve of the US election, which some say may represent a violation of the Hatch Act.

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Speaking with The Independent on Tuesday, Donald Sherman, the deputy director of nonpartisan watchdog organisation Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said he wasn’t so sure, however. 

Particularly given the timing, location and context of the press conference, he said it could very well constitute a Hatch Act violation. 

“I also think there’s something even more problematic here,” he said. “These are senior officials for Department of Homeland Security and we’ve got hurricanes threatening Alabama and Louisiana and we have wildfires still an issue in border states like California and New Mexico and these Trump administration officials aren’t there because they’re in swing states campaigning for the president.” 

Former DHS and Pentagon spokesperson David Lapan appeared to agree, tweeting out that the press conference was “blatant electioneering [and] fear-mongering.”

“They will deny it’s election-related but the timing, location [and] content of the remarks demonstrate otherwise,” Lapan, who now serves as vice president of communications at the Bipartisan Policy Center,  said. 

The bottom line, Sherman said, is that “government officials should not be using their federal jobs that taxpayers pay for to engage in partisan politics and to try to help one party or one candidate hold onto power.” 

Already, Sherman noted, at least 14 current or former senior Trump political appointees have been cited by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Hatch Act violations.

Whether there will be any consequences for potential violations, Sherman said, remains to be seen. However, given that, in the past, the OSC has “closed investigations when officials are no longer in power”,  there may not be any formal repercussions. 

With officials like Cuccinelli and Morgan facing the possibility of losing their roles should Trump fail to win re-election, as current polls suggest he might, Sherman said the president’s appointees may simply be choosing to “push all their cards onto the table”.

“They might be thinking, well, if we don’t campaign for Donald Trump, we’re out of a job anyway,” he said. 

The Independent has contacted both the DHS and CBP for comment.

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