Special Counsel outlines its Hatch Act limits
- By FederalSoup Staff
- Aug 27, 2020
As White House critics call for investigations of Hatch Act violations by administration staff participating in the Republican National Convention, the Office of Special Counsel issued a statement outlining its responsibilities and limitations.
The Aug. 26 statement, OSC noted that it has responsibility to enforce the Hatch Act, but “has no statutory authority to enforce or advise on criminal provisions…. That task belongs solely to the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said in the statement: “Ultimately, officials and employees choose whether to comply with the law. Once they make that choice, it is OSC's statutory role to receive complaints, investigate alleged Hatch Act violations, and determine which ones warrant prosecution.”
OSC noted that the Hatch Act does not apply to the president or vice president, nor does it prohibit federal employees from engaging in political activity in certain areas of the White House, including the South Lawn and the Rose Garden. OSC did acknowledge that the number of complaints has increased over the last few months but said that more objections are typical in election years.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose speech taped in Jerusalem was shown at the convention, was widely criticized as having violated the Hatch Act.
Democratic lawmakers have written to Kerner asking for Hatch Act investigations. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) suggested that Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf violated the act by appearing at the convention when he naturalized five new American citizens, while Reps. Raja Krishnamurthy (D-Ill.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) also asked OSC to look into the matter.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is launching a probe into whether Pompeo’s political activities violate internal State Department policy and the Hatch Act.