An ethics complaint has been filed against White House press secretary Jen Psaki after she indulged in a bit of political cheerleading during a White House briefing.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel calling for an investigation of an alleged Hatch Act violation by Psaki, according to The Hill.
The Hatch Act bans government employees from partisan campaign activities and other political activity while acting in their official capacity.
CREW, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Psaki crossed the line Thursday during a White House briefing when she gushed over Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia. McAuliffe is locked in a tight race against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin.
Psaki was asked if the White House was interpreting the race as a referendum on President Joe Biden’s policies, which McAuliffe strongly supports.
“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 a White House transcript of the briefing.
“Look, I think the president, of course, wants former Gov. 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,” she said.
“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. But, again, we’re going to do everything we can to help former Gov. McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing,” she said.
The letter from CREW said Psaki’s comment was a foul when it came to the Hatch Act.
“By mixing official government business with support of a candidate for partisan political office in the weeks before the election and engaging in political activity while on duty, Ms. Psaki appears to have used her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election, political activity that is prohibited by law,” the letter said.
Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany scolded the establishment media for not making a peep when Psaki crossed the line.
“Why does the media not hold @PressSec accountable for potential Hatch Act violations? She has twice advocated for political candidates from the podium. There is no problem in engaging in First Amendment political activity, but it must be done separate and apart from the podium,” she tweeted.
Why does the media not hold @PressSec accountable for potential Hatch Act violations? She has twice advocated for political candidates from the podium.
There is no problem in engaging in First Amendment political activity, but it must be done separate and apart from the podium. https://t.co/ICLldHRCgs
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) October 15, 2021
“I take ethics seriously. So does the president, of course,” she said in an interview.
“As I understand it, if I had said ‘he’ instead of ‘we,’ that would not have been an issue at all, and I’ll be more careful with my words next time,” Psaki said. “Words certainly matter.”
“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,” Psaki told CNBC.
Earlier this year, the Office of Special Counsel ruled that Marcia Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, violated the Hatch Act in talking about Democrats’ chances to win an upcoming election in her home state of Ohio.
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