- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2021

A government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against White House press secretary Jen Psaki, accusing her of violating the Hatch Act by appearing to endorse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe during a press briefing.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) filed the complaint Friday with the Office of Special Counsel seeking an investigation into whether Ms. Psaki violated the federal law, which bans federal employees from using their positions to campaign for political candidates.

“The last administration systematically co-opted the government for the president’s reelection. While this conduct does not come close to rising to the level of the outrageous offenses of the Trump administration, that does not mean we should be casual about compliance with an important ethics law,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path.”

During a White House press briefing Thursday, Ms. Psaki was asked if the White House views the upcoming Virginia governor’s race as a bellwether ahead of next year’s midterm elections. While Ms. Psaki acknowledged that she had to be careful to avoid running afoul of the Hatch Act, she did suggest support for Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help former Gov. McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing,” she said.

In an email to The Washington Times, Ms. Psaki pledged to be more circumspect in the future. 

“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,” she wrote. 

Late Thursday, former President Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, complained that Ms. Psaki may have violated the Hatch Act.

“Why does the media not hold @PressSec accountable for potential Hatch Act violations? She has twice advocated for political candidates from the podium,” she tweeted.

“There is no problem in engaging in First Amendment political activity, but it must be done separate and apart from the podium,” Ms. McEnany continued.

During the Trump administration, CREW and others filed dozens of complaints accusing administration officials of violating the Hatch Act. Ms. McEnany herself was criticized for both serving as Mr. Trump’s press secretary and an adviser on his 2020 campaign.

In 2019, the Office of Special Counsel recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be fired for repeatedly disregarding the Hatch Act by criticizing Democratic candidates while speaking in her official capacity.

Earlier this year, the special counsel concluded Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge violated the Hatch Act when she discussed the 2022 Ohio Senate election during a White House briefing.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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