The White House said Tuesday that President Obama won’t discipline Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton, over his violation of a federal law that forbids campaigning on government property.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Castro had fessed up to his “inadvertent error.”
“To his credit, Secretary Castro acknowledged the mistake that he made,” Mr. Earnest said. “He owned up to it, and he’s taken the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. That’s the expectation that people have when you make a mistake, particularly in a situation like this.”
The Office of Special Counsel said Monday that Mr. Castro violated the Hatch Act, which restricts partisan political activity by federal employees, when he praised Mrs. Clinton in an interview in April at his HUD office.
“In the end, the American people understand that she has a positive vision for the country that includes opportunity for everybody, and she can actually get it done,” Mr. Castro said at the time, with the HUD seal visible behind him.
The 41-year-old Cabinet secretary, a Texan and Hispanic who is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, is said to be under consideration by Mrs. Clinton as her running mate for vice president.
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She’s expected to make her announcement within days, ahead of the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is also among the contenders.
OSC investigators found that the format for the interview left the impression that Mr. Castro was speaking on behalf of his government agency, and not as a private citizen, when he touted Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. They said he “impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official government agency business.”
Violations of the Hatch Act carry a fine of up to $1,000; offenders sometimes receive a reprimand instead.
Mr. Castro acknowledged that he’d violated the act in his response to the OSC.
“In responding to a journalist’s question about the 2016 election, I offered my opinion to the interviewer after making it clear that I was articulating my personal view and not an official position,” Mr. Castro wrote. “At the time, I believed that this disclaimer was what was required by the Hatch Act. However, your analysis provides that it was not sufficient.”
He said “when an error is made — even an inadvertent one — the error should be acknowledged. Although it was not my intent, I made one here.”
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No punishment is forthcoming from the president.
“He indicated that he would participate in some additional training in an additional briefing to make sure that when he’s doing interviews in the future, that he understands what the Hatch Act requires,” Mr. Earnest said, suggesting that outcome was good enough for the White House.
He said the episode “exposes the hazards of bluntly answering questions that are posed by journalists.”
Asked if the violation should disqualify Mr. Castro from being tapped as Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, Mr. Earnest replied, “She’s getting plenty of advice from people. And I’ll let her make that decision.”