OSC warns against anti-Trump 'resistance' chatter

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A memo from a civil service protection office warns feds about possible Hatch Act violations arising from impeachment chatter or mentions of "resistance" while on the job.

The Office of Special Counsel, which enforces whistleblower protections and policies Hatch Act violations, cautioned federal employees that advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office is considered a violation of the Hatch Act -- as are "usage of the terms 'resistance,' '#resist,' and derivatives thereof." The Hatch Act prohibits partisan political activity while on the job for most federal employees.

The Nov. 27 memo was sent to a federal employee listserv and obtained and published by the New York Times.

"Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection,” the guidance states, "we must presume the use or display of 'resistance,' '#resist,' '#resistTrump,' and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise."

In a Nov. 30 clarification of to the guidance, OSC explained that the resistance phrases "have become slogans of political parties and partisan political groups, including in their efforts to oppose President Trump’s reelection."

The clarification also counseled that it would be impermissible for an employee to "display in his or her office a poster that states '#Impeach45' or place a 'Don't Impeach Trump' bumper sticker on a government-owned vehicle because such conduct advocates for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office."

Walt Shaub Jr., former head of the Office of Government Ethics, noted on Twitter that there appears to be a disparity between the treatment of the resistance slogans now and Tea Party slogans in the past, which were permitted.

"I'm all for a hardline on the Hatch Act, but I’m opposed to disparate treatment based on the content of speech," Shaub tweeted.

Just days after the initial guidance was issued, OSC dinged six administration officials for violations of the Hatch Act over tweeting political support for the Republican Party or Donald Trump, some for using campaign slogans like "Make America Great Again" and "MAGA" in official tweets.

Raj Shah, the top deputy to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, and Alyssa Farah, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, were among those named by OSC as violators.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the complaints against the administration officials.

"While we are glad to see the OSC confirm CREW’s findings of Hatch Act violations, warnings have not been enough to deter Trump Administration officials from using their official positions to engage in partisan political activity in direct violation of the law," said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a statement. "Since the time that these violations were committed, CREW has filed 11 additional Hatch Act complaints against Trump officials. Simply put, OSC must consider additional measures to prevent these rampant abuses."

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the communications director for the First Lady Stephanie Grisham and the White House director of social media Dan Scavino have been reprimanded for Hatch Act violations under the Trump Administration.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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