White House trade adviser Peter Navarro repeatedly violated federal law prohibiting Trump administration employees from politicking on government time, the Office of Special Counsel said in a ruling Monday that asked President Trump to discipline him.
Mr. Navarro continued his behavior even after an OSC warning, giving press interviews throughout the fall blasting Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden. Those interviews violated the Hatch Act, the key law governing political behavior by federal employees, the OSC said.
Mr. Navarro also used his Twitter account, @PeterNavarro45, which the investigators said he uses for public business, to attack Mr. Biden as “soft” on China.
“Dr. Navarro’s attempt to influence voters in the 2020 presidential election, while speaking as a representative of their government, is just what the Hatch Act is intended to prevent,” special counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote in a report to Mr. Trump.
Usually the special counsel can propose punishments, but since senior presidential advisers are appointed directly by the president, Mr. Kerner said it’s up to Mr. Trump to issue “appropriate disciplinary action.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but discipline is extremely unlikely.
Last year, the OSC found that then-presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway repeatedly trampled on the Hatch Act, and Mr. Kerner took the extraordinary step of suggesting she be fired.
The White House rebuffed the call, and Mrs. Conway stayed for another year, leaving the White House over this summer on her own timeline.
The Hatch Act was enacted in 1939 and is intended to both protect federal employees from political pressure and to prevent employees from engaging in politics while on taxpayers’ dime.
Every administration runs afoul of the law, but the level of violations by people close to Mr. Trump is exceptional.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under OSC investigation for delivering remarks to the GOP nominating convention for Mr. Trump this summer while on an official trip to Israel. He says he was working on his own time.
And members of Congress asked the OSC to probe acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf after he presided over a naturalization ceremony at the White House that was also used during the nominating convention.
In the case of Mr. Navarro, the OSC said he gave an interview in May to Fox News in which he attacked Mr. Biden. The OSC then informed him over the summer that he was under investigation, but he gave more interviews in August, September and October promoting Mr. Trump and denigrating Mr. Biden.
Sometimes he was speaking from the White House grounds and was identified by his official position as director of the Office on Trade and Manufacturing Policy, or trade adviser.
“In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election, Navarro has been one of the worst,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an outside watchdog that was one of those who asked for the OSC probe.