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Federal Investigators Say Trump Trade Adviser Violated Hatch Act

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DECEMBER 7, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House trade adviser Peter Navarro knowingly violated the law when he criticized then-presidential candidate Joe Biden earlier this year in television appearances and on social media while in his official capacity as a government employee, according to federal investigators.

In a report released on Monday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a permanent office of investigators and prosecutors, found that Mr. Navarro had violated the Hatch Act by using his authority as a Trump administration official to influence the 2020 presidential election.

The 1939 ethics law restricts federal employees’ political activity and their use of federal resources for politics. While violations can have career-ending consequences for lower-level federal employees, top officials have rarely faced significant punishment for breaching it.

The report identifies six media interviews from May 2020 to October 2020 in which Mr. Navarro appeared in his official capacity and criticized Mr. Biden or his then-running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris. “Dr. Navarro often attacked Mr. Biden about his relationship with China and at times accused him of being ‘compromised’ and susceptible to being ‘bought’ by China, even nicknaming him ‘Beijing Biden,’ ” the report says. Mr. Navarro launched similar criticisms of Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris on his official Twitter account, according to the report.

The Office of Special Counsel sent its findings to President Trump for disciplinary action. The White House declined to comment on the report, and Mr. Navarro didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Office of Special Counsel’s report said Mr. Navarro chose not to formally respond to its allegations.

In its report, the Office of Special Counsel alleges that Mr. Navarro’s Hatch Act violations were “knowing and willful” because he received training about the law and later continued to violate it after being alerted by federal investigators that they were looking into his conduct.

Five of the media interviews cited in the report were conducted after Mr. Navarro received a July letter from the Office of Special Counsel alerting him to the allegations investigators were looking into.

“Yet Dr. Navarro continued to violate the Hatch Act by attacking Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during official interviews despite knowing that OSC was investigating him for engaging in that very activity,” the report says.

White House officials have often brushed off the significance of the law. “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said this summer.

Several White House employees and executive branch officials have been assessed to have violated Hatch Act provisions and haven’t faced disciplinary action, including former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway. The Office of Special Counsel recommended that Ms. Conway be fired for her repeated violations of the prohibitions on political activity. Mr. Trump never took any action against her. Ms. Conway left the White House in August.


Courtesy/Source: WSJ