A prominent outside government ethics watchdog has filed an ethics complaint claiming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki violated the Hatch Act when she talked up former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe from the White House podium.
Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, an ethics group that regularly hounded the Trump administration when multiple officials talked politics or promoted merchandise from the White House grounds, announced the complaint a day after Psaki’s comments.
She had been asked whether the tight Virginia governor’s race, just a few weeks out, would be a bellwether for Biden.
‘We’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing,’ she said at the end of her comments, praising the Democrat.
‘Well, I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here,’ Psaki said Wednesday before commenting on the Virginia governor’s race. An ethics group says she appears to have given an ‘endorsement’ from the podium
According to CREW’s complaint, ‘That appears to be an endorsement of his candidacy. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from ‘us[ing their] official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.’
It notes that ‘political activity’ is defined as ‘an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.’
Ironically Psaki prefaced her remarks with a hedge – indicating she sought to avoid using problematic language. Administration officials are schooled in the law when they sign on, and Psaki served in the Obama White House.
‘Well, I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here and not (inaudible) into that too much,’ she said, according to the White House transcript.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, accompanied by his wife Dorothy meet with his supporters before they cast their vote at County Government Center in Fairfax, Va. Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. McAuliffe is in a tight race to reclaim his old job
Psaki’s predecessor Kayleigh McEnany, now a Fox News commentator, blasted the comments
McEnany called on the press to hold Psaki ‘accountable’
‘Look, I think the President, of course, wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia. There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges, or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce.
I will say as — I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey that off-year elections are often — are often not a bellwether, but — and there’s a lot of history here in Virginia.’
Her comments came after it was reported Obama will campaign with McAuliffe, and Biden will appear with him again, having stumped with him this past summer.
A loss in the purple state would likely be interpreted as a sign of troubles ahead for Biden in 2022.
CREW’s statement pointed to Trump’s election overturn effort – a House select committee is probing Trump administration efforts to push the Justice Department and state officials to probe ‘election fraud’ while Trump was claiming it.
‘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,’ said CREW President Noah Bookbinder.
‘The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path.’
CREW also filed multiple complaints against McEnany, who said in a pre-election White House interview asked the media to look into the ‘Joe Biden-Hunter Biden situation.’
The CREW statement credited Psaki for at least trying to honor the Act.
‘In her October 14 press conference, she first tried to frame her answer on the right side of the line, before eventually crossing it,’ it said.
According to the group, it’s complaints led to reprimands during the Trump administration of an unprecedented number of officials, including: ‘Dan Scavino, Nikki Haley, Stephanie Grisham, Raj Shah, Jessica Ditto, Madeleine Westerhout, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Alyssa Farah, Jacob Wood, Peter Navarro, Kellyanne Conway and Lynne Patton.’
The complaint comes after former Obama ethics official Walter Shaub rapped Psaki for brushing back on a reporter’s question the ethics of Hunter Biden’s art sales.
CREW’s statement said her comments appeared to violate the law