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Hatch Act and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf: Founding Partner Debra D'Agostino Gives Her Opinion to Washington Examiner

Written by: Federal Practice Group
Written by: Federal Practice Group

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White House: Trump naturalization ceremony an official event "campaign decided to use"

The White House defended its decision to hold a naturalization ceremony with President Trump amid the Republican National Convention Tuesday night as an "official" event that the Republican National Committee decided to pick up.

“The President held a naturalization ceremony which was an official White House event,” a White House official wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner Thursday. “The White House publicized the content of the event on a public website that same afternoon and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes. There was no violation of law.”

Trump appeared in the RNC’s official convention footage Tuesday night as part of a surprise citizenship ceremony that featured five guests and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Democrats erupted at the show, including House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, who called Wednesday for the United States Office of Special Counsel to investigate if the event violated the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from promoting political interests during the normal course of work in an effort to influence an election.

“On August 25, 2020, Mr. Wolf performed a naturalization ceremony on government property to be aired at the Republican National Convention for the apparent purpose of advancing the President's reelection,” Thompson wrote in his letter. “This is an unprecedented politicization of the naturalization ceremony — an official function of the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Wolf's participation appears to constitute engaging in political activity while acting in an official capacity.”

A spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee Republicans said Democrats are attempting “to use any means available to distract from the president’s sweeping successes.”

“Democrats have a pattern of making up baseless scandals. They did the same when President Trump announced he’d deliver his acceptance speech from the White House,” the Republican official said. “The naturalization ceremony that occurred at the White House this week was a public event. President Trump has previously held naturalization ceremonies at the White House with other administration officials, and his administration welcomed an 11-year high in new U.S. citizens last year.”

Delaney Marsco, a legal counsel in the ethics office at the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, said the ceremony was used for political purposes and showed "unprecedented disregard for keeping official business and political activity separate."

Marsco wrote in an email, "An investigation by OSC would bring to light whether Chad Wolf — and other federal employees who coordinated and took part in planning and filming the ceremony — used their official positions while engaged in political activity, in violation of the law."

Debra D’Agostino, a founding partner of Washington-based Federal Practice Group, said a formal investigation is not necessary. Instead, Congress should pass a bill that can "shore up" the Hatch Act's procedures and remedies.

"President Trump is not going to discipline Wolf, or any of his other appointees for this conduct, and OSC has issued a Policy Statement providing that it will close a case when an official leaves government service," D'Agostino said in a statement. "If Congress wants this conduct to stop, it is going to have to give the Hatch Act real teeth through new legislation."

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, also called for an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech at the convention, which was delivered from Israel.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

by Anna Giaritelli, Homeland Security Reporter  -  August 27, 2020 05:04 PM

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