“This abomination may be the most visible misuse of official position for private gain in America’s history,” tweeted Walter Shaub on August 27, as President Donald Trump closed out four days of using the White House grounds and his official duties as props for his re-election campaign.
Not one Iowa Republican elected official or party leader objected.
Trump and other speakers at the Republican National Convention told so many lies this week that the abuse of government resources may seem minor by comparison. Nevertheless, the four-day spectacle symbolized the lawlessness of this administration.
Norm Eisen, who was White House Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform during part of Barack Obama’s presidency, tweeted,
Do you know what I see?
Literally thousands of Hatch Act violations— one for every federal official who helped with or participated in this revolting display. The greatest mass Hatch Act transgression in US history.
Even the fireworks are a violation. pic.twitter.com/7xQbTMKoyo
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) August 28, 2020
Eisen added that when enforcing the Hatch Act was part of his responsibility, he made a senior White House staffer remove an Obama campaign sign autographed by the Grateful Dead, because “politics in the federal workplace are illegal.”
The Hatch Act technically does not apply to the president and vice president, but it applies to all other federal employees. White House staff have long been trained to understand that it’s inappropriate to use government space for partisan politics.
“Some of Mr. Trump’s aides privately scoff at the Hatch Act and say they take pride in violating its regulations,” Michael Grynbaum and Annie Karni reported for the New York Times two days before the RNC began.
Shaub, who was director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics during Obama’s second term, commented on August 25,
The Hatch Act was the wall standing between the government’s might and candidates. Tonight a candidate tore down that wall and wielded power for his own campaign. Citizen Trump is no longer presenting himself as a candidate. Now your government is telling you who should rule you.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) August 26, 2020
Back when any hint of campaign activity on White House grounds was a scandal, Republicans including Senator Chuck Grassley demanded that an independent counsel investigate then Vice President Al Gore for making some campaign fundraising calls from his office.
If Grassley had any misgivings about this week’s happenings in Washington, he kept those out of any public comments, news releases, or his widely-read Twitter feed. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said earlier this month that holding any part of the convention “on federal property would seem to be problematic.” Such unpleasantness was not spoken of again.
Now that Trump has lowered the bar, Republican incumbents around the country may feel emboldened to use their offices for campaign purposes. That will bear close watching this fall and in 2022.
UPDATE: Katie Glueck, Annie Karni, and Alexander Burns reported for the New York Times on August 28,
Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.
Top image: Photo tweeted by Walter Shaub on August 27.