White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday refused to discuss Virginia’s governor’s race after a government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing her of violating the Hatch Act by appearing to endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
Asked about President Biden’s trip to campaign for Mr. McAuliffe later in the day and if she’s surprised about the tightness of the race, Ms. Psaki sidestepped the questions.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” she said at the daily White House press briefing. “I’m not going to do any politics from here, or political analysis.”
“I leave the political analysis to my friends over at the DNC,” she later added.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), a left-leaning watchdog group, filed a complaint this month 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.”
In an Oct. 15 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.
Kayleigh McEnany, who served as press secretary in the Trump White House, last week accused the media of giving Ms. Psaki a free pass when she appeared to violate 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.”
During the Trump administration, CREW and others filed dozens of complaints accusing administration officials of violating the Hatch Act. Ms. McEnany 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.