Did These 3 Biden Administration Figures Break The Same Law?

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Much like the Obama administration, which the former president boasted had “not even a smidgen of corruption,” the Biden administration enjoys an image in the legacy media as a scandal-free zone. Yet within the last three weeks, at least three members of the Biden administration — including Vice President Kamala Harris — have been accused of violating a federal election law and corrupting their office.

The Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-26) makes it illegal for virtually every federal employee to “use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” U.S. law clarifies that “[p]olitical activity means an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. Ethics watchdogs say the administration has repeatedly straddled the line of legality or possibly stepped over it.

1. Vice President Kamala Harris

Although she is not an ordained minister, priest, or rabbi, Vice President Kamala Harris gave a stirring altar call of sorts in churches across the state of Virginia that take part in the Democratic Party’s “Souls to the Polls” program. Harris gave a ringing testimony on behalf of the Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe. “I believe that my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader Virginia needs at this moment,” she said in a video that was broadcast throughout the state this month.

In this case, the law is clear: Harris did not violate the Hatch Act, which defines a federal “employee” as “any individual, other than the [p]resident and the [v]ice [p]resident.” If the law applied to the administration’s leading figures, they could not endorse supporters or campaign for re-election.

However, the legality of churches with a 501(c)3, tax-exempt status broadcasting a naked partisan call is less clear.

2. White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki

A reporter asked White House spokesperson Jen Psaki whether “the White House sees the Virginia governor’s race as a bellwether” of its own fading popularity during the Thursday, October 14 press briefing.

“I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here,” Psaki said, apparently cognizant of the law’s constraints.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

“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,” said Psaki, according to a transcript posted on the White House’s website. “We’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing.”

Any interpretation of her remarks would find they were “directed toward the success” of a particular candidate, as one of the administration’s least likely critics proved.

“That appears to be an endorsement of [McAuliffe’s] candidacy,” said the left-wing Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW filed a formal complaint with Henry Kerner of the Office of Special Counsel the day after Psaki’s remarks, asking the OSC to “investigate whether White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki violated the Hatch Act by advocating for the election of Terry McAuliffe to be governor of Virginia during an official White House press briefing,” because “Ms. Psaki appears to have run afoul of the statute.” CREW President Noah Bookbinder noted the organization’s long list of ethics complaints against the Trump administration before saying, “The Biden administration should not follow the Trump administration down that path.”

CREW’s complaint noted this was not Psaki’s first close brush with this election law:

We further note in February 2021, Ms. Psaki tweeted that “@POTUS clearly opposes any effort to recall @GavinNewsom,”  referring to California Governor Gavin Newsom. At the time, there was no actual recall election of Governor Newsom to be influenced, only an effort to secure enough signatures on a petition to initiate a recall election, and thus her tweet did not violate the Hatch Act. Nonetheless, in a letter to White House Counsel Dana Remus regarding Ms. Psaki’s tweet and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge’s remarks during a White House press briefing about the Democratic Party’s strength in an upcoming Ohio election, CREW noted that Ms. Psaki’s tweet came closer than necessary to the situations the Hatch Act contemplated, and emphasized the need for Hatch Act training and compliance.

The White House claims that it has learned its lesson. “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,” a more cautious Psaki told CNBC the same day CREW filed its complaint. “I take ethics very seriously and will choose my words more carefully moving forward.”

3. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm may have violated the Hatch Act when she appeared as the guest in an Instagram video for Marie Claire magazine on October 6. Granholm, who was introduced as “Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm,” discussed her position and duties with Emily Tisch Sussman, whom the Washington Free Beacon describes as “a Democratic activist and daughter of a major Democratic donor.” Sussman eventually asked about the Biden administration’s stalled “Build Back Better” government spending and social welfare bill.

“I’m subject to something called the Hatch Act, which means I can’t advocate for people to call their Members of Congress,” said Granholm, a former governor of Michigan. “If I weren’t subject to the Hatch Act, I’m sure you know I would be” more forthcoming, “but I am so I can’t do that.”

But she, too, continued to speak her truth.

Since the bill is essentially blocked by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Granholm appeared to advocate for the election of more progressive Democrats, especially to the U.S. Senate. “You can hire them, you can fire them,” Granholm told the video’s viewers. “The most important thing that you can do is make your voice heard. … Vote.”

“The arguments in D.C. right now wouldn’t be as tough as they are if we had just a couple more, just a couple more senators that agreed with us, or just a couple more members of the House,” Granholm continued. She urged her audience to “continue to elect people — [and] maybe you, think about running for office, you know?”

“We request the Office of Special Counsel investigate whether Secretary Granholm violated the Hatch Act by making political remarks while being interviewed in her official capacity,” the right-leaning Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) said in a letter to Kerner at the OSC last Tuesday.

FACT notes that the Hatch Act prohibits a federal employee from “(1) Using his or her official title while participating in political activity; (2) Using his or her authority to coerce any person to participate in political activity; and (3) Soliciting, accepting, or receiving uncompensated individual volunteer services from a subordinate for any political purpose.”

“By using her official position to advocate for a political party and candidates, Secretary Granholm appears to have violated the statute. The Office of Special Counsel should immediately investigate and take any appropriate disciplinary action against Secretary Granholm,” wrote FACT executive director Kendra Arnold.

Conclusion

CREW’s Noah Bookbinder said, “We hope the Biden administration will give renewed attention to staying on the right side of this law.” Thus far, there is little evidence the Biden administration has any plans to improve its legal compliance.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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