Federal employees face violating federal law and dismissal if they strongly criticize or praise the Trump administration, advocate for impeachment or participate in activity related to “the resistance” and “#Resist,” according to guidance sent out on Nov. 27 by the Office of Special Counsel. Last week, the office also sent warning letters to six White House staffers for alleged violations and also sent out the guidance stating that such activity is a violation of the Hatch Act.
The reprimand to the White House staffers indicated that their tweets using “#MAGA” or “Make America Great Again” qualified as promotion of the president’s campaign slogan, thus venturing into Hatch Act territory.
“To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms ‘resistance,’ ‘#resist,’ and derivatives thereof is political activity,” states the guidance. “We understand that the ‘resistance’ and ‘#resist’ originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, ‘resistance,’ ‘#resist’ and similar terms have become inextricably links with the electoral success (or failure) of the president.”
Federal employees can still use words ‘resistance’ and ‘#resist,’ but just not in a political context during working hours.
“For example, an employee would not be engaging in political activity by posting on social media, ‘I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room.’ That said, we do presume that the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act,” the office stated in a Nov. 30 clarification of the guidance.
On Nov. 30, the unit also identified six administration officials who were reprimanded for Hatch Act violations after an investigation was requested by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The staffers are Executive Assistant to the President Madeleine Westerhout, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shaj, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Media Affairs Helen Aguirre Ferré, Deputy Director of Communications Jessica Ditto, Press Secretary for the Vice President Alyssa Farah and Jacob Wood, the deputy communications director for the Office of Management and Budget.
Westerhout was cited for posting on Twitter on April 26: “Congratulations to Mike Pompeo! He was a great CIA Director and will be an extraordinary Secretary of State! #MAGA.” She also retweeted a message from President Trump’s Twitter page on March 9, which read, “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! #MAGA.”
The six employees deleted all politically motivated messages, OSC official Erica Hamrick told Government Executive.
“Although we have concluded that these six EOP employees violated the Hatch Act, we have decided not to pursue disciplinary action and are closing their files without further action,” Hamrick wrote in a statement. “They all have been advised that if in the future they engage in prohibited political activity while employed in a position covered by the Hatch Act, we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action.”