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Trump officials illegally campaigned while in office, Watchdog finds

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WASHINGTON — Thirteen of President Donald J. Trump’s most senior aides — including his son-in-law and his chief of staff — illegally campaigned for Mr. Trump’s re-election in violation of a law designed to prevent federal employees from depriving themselves of power. offices on behalf of candidates, a government watchdog said Tuesday.

Henry Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, made the claim in a damning report that followed a nearly a year-long investigation into “many” violations of the law known as the Hatch Act.

“Trump senior administration officials chose not to use their official authority for the legitimate functions of the administration, but to promote President Trump’s re-election in violation of the law,” the report concluded.

Investigators in Mr. Kerner’s office said Trump administration officials deliberately violated the law banning political activity during the administration’s last few weeks, knowing the special counsel’s office would not have time to to conduct research and report findings before Election Day.

“The government’s deliberate disregard for the law was especially damaging given the time when many of these violations occurred,” the report said.

Violations of the Hatch Act are not uncommon for a presidential administration. In October, White House press secretary Jen Psaki apologized after an outside group accused her of breaking the law by commenting in the White House press room on the upcoming Virginia governor race.

But the Kerner report describes something rarer: a concerted, deliberate attempt to break the law by top White House officials. The Washington Post announced the publication of the report earlier on Tuesday.

The people accused of breaking the law are a who’s who of Trump officials: Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette; Kellyanne Conway, counselor; Alyssa Farah, White House communications director; David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel; Jared Kushner, senior advisor; Kayleigh McEnany, Press Secretary; Mark Meadows, Chief of Staff; Stephen Miller, senior advisor; Brian Morgenstern, Assistant Press Secretary; Robert C. O’Brien, National Security Advisor; Marc Short, chief of staff to the vice president; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.

The report states that Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Wolf broke the law through their actions during the Republican National Convention, which took place in the White House because of the pandemic.

It said Mr Pompeo was illegally campaigning “by changing the policy of the United States Department of State to allow himself to speak at the convention and then, when he was involved in political activity by that to make a speech, to use his official authority by repeatedly referring to the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Mr. Wolf “violated the Hatch Act by presiding over a naturalization ceremony orchestrated for the purpose of creating content for the convention,” the report said.

The rest of the officials broke the law by campaigning openly “during official interviews or media appearances.”

The government’s stance on compliance with the Hatch Act was succinctly captured by then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who said in an interview that ‘no one outside of the Beltway really cares’ that Trump administration officials have opened the Hatch. Act,” the report said in its executive summary.

Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, which has filed complaints about the actions of Trump administration officials, praised the report from the Office of Special Counsel on Tuesday.

“This report confirms that there has been nothing less than a systematic co-optation of the federal government’s powers to keep Donald Trump in office,” Mr Bookbinder said in a statement. “Trump senior administration officials showed open disregard for the law intended to protect the American people from using taxpayers’ money and government power for partisan politics.”

Mr. Bookbinder called on Congress to tighten laws prohibiting political activity by federal employees.

The Office of Special Counsel report notes that none of the individuals named will face any punishment for their violations, as it is up to the incumbent president to punish his top associates.

“President Trump not only failed to do so, but he also openly defended an OSC employee who had repeatedly violated the Hatch Act,” the report said. “This failure to enforce discipline created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus in the upper echelons of the executive branch.”

Emails to several of Mr Trump’s representatives went unanswered.

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