Press Releases

Carper Asks Office of Special Counsel to Review Potential Hatch Act Violation

Senator requests Office of Special Counsel to review a tweet posted by an aide to President Trump urging Trump supporters to “defeat [U.S. Representative Justin Amash] in primary”

Apr 11 2017

WASHINGTON—After an aide to President Trump tweeted that Trump supporters should defeat a U.S. Representative in primary, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel requesting a full review of the potential violation of the Hatch Act, which generally prohibits certain categories of political activities for all covered employees.

“While the Hatch Act prohibits covered employees from engaging in political activity in an official capacity at any time, or while on duty or in the workplace, there are additional restrictions for covered employees in their personal capacity,” Senator Carper wrote in the letter. “Although Mr. Scavino used his personal Twitter account, and not his official White House Twitter account, these two accounts are nearly indistinguishable. Both his official and personal Twitter accounts use the same profile and background images, which, as of the date of Mr. Scavino’s tweet, are, respectively, an image of Mr. Scavino in the Oval Office and of President Donald Trump giving a speech in front of the America flag. Mr. Scavino’s nearly identical Twitter pages could easily create the impression that he is acting in an official capacity when engaging in political activity on his personal account.”

“As the Special Counsel, you have authority to review potential Hatch Act violations. I request that you use the authority Congress granted you under the Hatch Act of 1939, as amended, to ‘receive any allegation of a prohibited personnel practice and shall investigate the allegation to the extent necessary to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a prohibited personnel practice has occurred, exists, or is to be taken.’”

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

 April 7, 2017

Dear Special Counsel Lerner:

As you know, the Hatch Act generally prohibits certain categories of political activities for all covered employees.[1] While the Hatch Act prohibits covered employees from engaging in political activity in an official capacity at any time, or while on duty or in the workplace, there are additional restrictions for covered employees in their personal capacity.[2]  Specifically, as you know, guidance issued by your office on the use of social media and Hatch Act compliance notes that the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time.[3] I write today to request your assistance with a review of a tweet by Dan Scavino Jr., Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media.

On April 1, 2017, Mr. Scavino sent the following tweet that raised serious concerns:

@realDonaldTrump is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan. @justinamash is a big liability.#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary.

Although Mr. Scavino used his personal Twitter account, and not his official White House Twitter account, these two accounts are nearly indistinguishable. Both his official and personal Twitter accounts use the same profile and background images, which, as of the date of Mr. Scavino’s tweet, are, respectively, an image of Mr. Scavino in the Oval Office and of President Donald Trump giving a speech in front of the America flag. Mr. Scavino’s nearly identical Twitter pages could easily create the impression that he is acting in an official capacity when engaging in political activity on his personal account.

Mr. Scavino’s tweet may have also violated other Hatch Act regulations that prohibit certain categories of political activities. Specifically, the Office of Personnel Management’s regulations state:

An employee covered under this subpart may not participate in political activities: while he or she is on duty…while he or she is any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an individual employed or holding office in the Government of the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof….[4]

In this case, it is unclear whether Mr. Scavino was on official duty or on federal property when he sent this tweet from his personal Twitter account. It is also unclear whether Mr. Scavino’s tweet encouraged individuals to make political contributions. As you know, social media guidance for federal employees issued by the Office of Special Counsel specifically prohibits the encouragement of political contributions.[5]

As the Special Counsel, you have authority to review potential Hatch Act violations. I request that you use the authority Congress granted you under the Hatch Act of 1939, as amended, to “receive any allegation of a prohibited personnel practice and shall investigate the allegation to the extent necessary to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a prohibited personnel practice has occurred, exists, or is to be taken.”[6]

I request that you review Mr. Scavino’s tweet and act promptly on the basis of your findings. I also ask you to report back to my staff with any recommendation for disciplinary action, if warranted.

            With best personal regards, I am

                                                            Sincerely yours,

                                                            Tom Carper

                                                            U.S. Senator

cc:        Kathleen M. McGettigan

            Acting Director

            U.S. Office of Personnel Management

 

            Don McGahn

            White House Counsel

            Office of the White House Counsel

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[1] 5 U.S.C. § 7321 et seq. (2015).

[2] 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) (2015).

[3] The Hatch Act: Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Employees and the Use of Social Media and Email, U.S. Office of Special Counsel (revised December 18, 2015), available at https://osc.gov/Resources/FAQ%20Hatch%20Act%20Employees%20and%20Social%20Media%20(revised%2012-18-2015).pdf.

[4] 5 C.F.R. § 734.406(a) (2016).

[5] The Hatch Act: Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Employees and the Use of Social Media and Email, U.S. Office of Special Counsel (revised December 18, 2015), available at https://osc.gov/Resources/FAQ%20Hatch%20Act%20Employees%20and%20Social%20Media%20(revised%2012-18-2015).pdf; 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(2) (2015).

[6] 5 U.S.C. § 1214 (2015).