White House to review ruling that press secretary broke Hatch Act

A ruling by a government agency said that Karine Jean-Pierre violated a law limiting political activity by United States federal employees.

White House
Karine Jean-Pierre said she had used language given to her by White House officials [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says its lawyers will review a ruling from a government agency that said she violated a law limiting political activity by federal employees.

Jean-Pierre’s comments on Tuesday came a day after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced she violated the Hatch Act by referring to “mega MAGA Republicans” in talking to reporters last year.

“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,” the office said on Monday.

Jean-Pierre reportedly used the reference in press briefings prior to the November 2022 midterm election.

Although she “never expressly instructed viewers to vote for or against Republican candidates for elected office”, the OSC concluded the timing, frequency, and content of her references established that she made those references to generate opposition to Republican candidates, OSC said in its letter of complaint.

“Accordingly, making the references constituted political activity,” the OSC said.

Asked at her daily briefing on Tuesday about the ruling, Jean-Pierre said she had used language given to her by officials at the White House of President Joe Biden.

“At the time I was given the sign-off to use that terminology,” she said.

She said the previous administration of former President Donald Trump had frequently referred to “MAGA Republicans.” MAGA is short for Trump’s political slogan, Make America Great Again.

“If you look at the archived Trump White House website, it contains … nearly 2,000 uses of MAGA to describe policy and official agendas. Congressional Republicans have also used MAGA to refer to policies and official agenda frequently for years now, even clearly before we entered the administration,” she said.

Jean-Pierre said White House lawyers would be in touch with the Office of Special Counsel to review the ruling.

White House counsel is going to have “a routine dialogue with OSC”, she said.

“The letter was retroactive. The comments I made were months prior. And so we didn’t know that was the opinion.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies