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Karine Jean-Pierre Violated Hatch Act With Election-Related Statements, Agency Says

Karine Jean-Pierre Violated Hatch Act With Election-Related Statements, Agency Says

Karine Jean-Pierre

The Office of Special Counsel made this finding in response to a complaint from a conservative group.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act, a law designed to keep federal executive branch employees from seeking to influence elections when performing their official duties, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found.

The office received a complaint about Jean-Pierre using the term “mega MAGA Republicans” and making other disparaging statements about the GOP in a White House press briefing in November, less than a week before the 2022 midterm election. It came from a watchdog group called Protect the Public’s Trust, which is run by Michael Chamberlain, who worked in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and then in the Department of Education during the Trump administration.

The complaint stated that in the November 2 briefing, Jean-Pierre said, “Unfortunately, we have seen mega MAGA Republican officials who don’t believe in the rule of law. 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.”

“The Hatch Act prohibits federal executive branch employees from using their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election,” the complaint noted. “The Act applies to any individual, other than the President or Vice President, ‘employed or holding office in ... an Executive agency other than the Government Accountability Office.’”

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, agreed that Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act and issued her a warning but will take no further action.

“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,” Ana Galindo‐Marrone, head of the office’s Hatch Act Unit, wrote in a Wednesday letter to Protect the Public’s Trust. The letter was first made available to NBC News.

The agency “decided to close this matter without further action,” Galindo‐Marrone wrote, as the White House counsel’s office “did not at the time believe that Ms. Jean‐Pierre’s remarks were prohibited.”

The Office of Special Counsel thought otherwise, but officials there weren’t sure that information was ever given to Jean-Pierre, the letter continued. So the press secretary received a warning but won’t face disciplinary action, which could have included demotion, temporary or permanent removal from service, or a fine. The agency said it would consider such action if there are further violations.

Representatives of Jean-Pierre were not immediately available for comment.

Jean-Pierre, a lesbian, is the first Black person, first out member of the LGBTQ+ community, and first immigrant to be White House press secretary. She has often used her platform to speak out against homophobia and transphobia.

Protect the Public’s Trust bills itself as nonpartisan, but most of its complaints have been against officials in President Joe Biden’s administration. It issued a press release calling the Office of Special Counsel’s decision “an odd deferral of authority.”

“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,” Chamberlain said in the release. “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.”

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates issued this statement to NBC: “As has been made clear throughout the administration, we take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act. We are reviewing this opinion.”

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