The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was founded as a left-wing alternative to Judicial Watch, has asked the Office of Special Counsel to investigate White House spokesman Jen Psaki for violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prevents executive branch employees from engaging in politics when performing their official duties.
Yesterday Psaki was asked if the White House saw the Virginia Governor’s election as a “bellwether” and whether the outcome of that race would be “a progress report on the president’s agenda.” Psaki started her response by saying she needed to be careful about what she said from the podium but then quickly went beyond being careful. Here’s her full response according to the White House transcript:
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here and not (inaudible) into that too much.
Look, I think the President, of course, wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia. There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges, or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce.
I will say as — I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey that off-year elections are often — are often not a bellwether, but — and there’s a lot of history here in Virginia. But, again, we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing.
That was called out by a reporter for the Free Beacon yesterday as an obvious violation of the Hatch Act. Former White House Press spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany seconded that:
Why does the media not hold @PressSec accountable for potential Hatch Act violations? She has twice advocated for political candidates from the podium.
There is no problem in engaging in First Amendment political activity, but it must be done separate and apart from the podium. https://t.co/ICLldHRCgs
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) October 15, 2021
Today, CREW sided with McEnany and said the statement should be investigated as a possible violation of the Hatch Act. CREW wrote:
Ms. Psaki appears to have violated the Hatch Act in her October 14 press briefing by impermissibly mixing official government business with advocacy for former Governor McAuliffe’s election. There is no question Ms. Psaki was speaking in her official capacity and was on duty. Her remarks were made during an official press briefing from behind the podium in the White House Briefing Room, and she discussed numerous official issues during the briefing.
There is also little doubt that Ms. Psaki’s statements were aimed at the success or failure of a candidate in a partisan election. The Virginia gubernatorial election is scheduled for November 2, 2021, less than three weeks after Ms. Psaki’s comments. In the briefing, Ms. Psaki unequivocally stated that President Biden wants Governor McAuliffe to be the next governor of Virginia, and said “we’re doing everything we can to help” him. While Ms. Psaki referred to former Governor McAuliffe “agenda,” he is not currently in office, leaving little question that she was speaking about his upcoming election. As a result, while Ms. Psaki did not explicitly urge voting for Governor McAuliffe, her statements appear to have been aimed at his success in a partisan political election…
By using her official position, authority, and title to advocate for the success of a candidates in a partisan election, Ms. Psaki appears to have run afoul of the statute. OSC should commence an immediate investigation into the conduct described in this letter and take any appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Psaki.
Psaki was asked about the apparent violation by Fox News this afternoon and promised to choose her words more carefully in the future.
In response to the complaint, Psaki told Fox News, “While the president has publicly expressed his support for McAuliffe, we’ll leave it to the press and the campaign to provide commentary on the race. I take ethics very seriously and will choose my words more carefully moving forward.”
So it sounds like she’s conceding the point. Here’s Psaki stepping in it yesterday: