Watchdog: Trump trade adviser Navarro violated Hatch Act

Peter Navarro is the latest Trump official to violate a United States law prohibiting federal employees from engaging in politics.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro (left) is the latest Trump administration official to have been found in violation of the Hatch Act [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is the latest Trump administration official found to have violated the Hatch Act, a law limiting the political activities of United States federal employees.

In its 13-page report to President Trump, the government watchdog US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that Navarro’s harsh public criticism of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, were in violation of the law.

“OSC’s investigation determined that Dr. Navarro violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election by engaging in political activity during official media appearances and on his official Twitter account,” the agency wrote in the report released Monday.

The report points out that from May through October, Navarro “often attacked Mr Biden about his relationship with China and at times accused him of being ‘compromised’ and susceptible to being ‘bought’ by China, even nicknaming him ‘Beijing Biden’”.

“Dr. Navarro’s violations of the Hatch Act were knowing and willful,” the report says.

“The White House Counsel’s Office attorney explained that all White House employees receive mandatory ethics training, which includes training on the Hatch Act,” the report continues. “And five of the interviews discussed above occurred after OSC sent its July 21, 2020 letter to Dr. Navarro, putting him on notice of the allegations OSC was investigating. Yet Dr. Navarro continued to violate the Hatch Act by attacking presidential candidate Joe Biden during official interviews despite knowing that OSC was investigating him for engaging in that very activity.”

The OSC said Navarro had no response to the report but said the White House counsel’s office unsuccessfully argued that Navarro’s comments about Biden were “factual, policy-based statements acceptable for him to make in his official capacity”.

Violations of the Hatch Act are generally submitted by the OSC to the violator’s superior, in this case Trump, for “appropriate disciplinary action” such as a fine or termination. Given Trump’s inaction after previous violations by other administration officials, it is unlikely he will act to punish Navarro.

Trump officials, including former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, have been cited for Hatch Act violations during Trump’s presidency. Several others – including First Lady Melania Trump’s former press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, as well as various White House communications and press officials – have been issued warnings from the OSC but were not disciplined.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently under investigation by the OSC for the August Republican National Convention speech he delivered while on an official government trip to Israel.

In Conway’s case, the OSC in 2019 found her to have repeatedly violated the law and said, “Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends that she be removed from federal service.”

Trump did not heed that recommendation, and Conway stepped down from her White House post on her own accord in August to spend more time with her family.

Source: Al Jazeera