Karine Jean-Pierre Can't Stop Breaking This Federal Ethics Rule

Karine Jean-Pierre (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
December 1, 2023

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made history on Friday, becoming the first Biden administration official to rack up multiple Hatch Act violations.

Jean-Pierre and her deputy, Andrew Bates, violated the longstanding federal ethics law with their June 14 statements denouncing "MAGA Republicans," the Office of Special Counsel found. The Hatch Act bars federal officials from making political statements in their capacity as government employees. Jean-Pierre and Bates made the incriminating statements just one week after the office ruled the press secretary's use of the phrase "MAGA" in the leadup to the 2022 midterm elections had also violated the Hatch Act.

"On June 14, 2023, both Ms. Jean-Pierre and Mr. Bates used MAGA in official communications," Hatch Act Unit chief Ana Galindo-Marrone said in a letter first reported Friday by NBC News. "We recognize that these actions were contrary to our June 7 warning letter and advisory opinion."

Jean-Pierre openly challenged the Office of Special Counsel's June 7 warning before committing her second Hatch Act violation, claiming during a press briefing that White House officials had "given the sign-off to use" the MAGA phrase. Despite its initial warning that future violations would be a "knowing and willful violation of the law," the Office of Special Counsel declined to punish Jean-Pierre for her repeat violation, saying she has since stayed true to the letter of the law.

"We have no evidence that either Ms. Jean-Pierre or Mr. Bates has used MAGA in an official capacity since June 14," Galindo-Marrone said in her most recent letter. "Therefore, because we have reason to believe that White House officials are abiding by OSC's warnings and advisory opinion, we are not [pursuing] disciplinary action at this time and are closing these matters."

A White House official told NBC News that the Biden administration takes the law seriously and upholds the Hatch Act, which safeguards taxpayer funds from influencing elections. But the facts show that the Biden administration has a sordid history with the ethics law.

The Office of Special Counsel found that Jean-Pierre's predecessor, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, violated the law when she endorsed Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign during a White House press briefing in 2021. President Joe Biden's former chief of staff Ron Klain also violated the act when he retweeted a message from a left-wing political action committee in May 2022.

Authorities determined in April that Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra "crossed the line" and violated the Hatch Act when he praised Sen. Alex Padilla (D., Calif.) during a taxpayer-funded event before the 2022 elections. And Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the law when she praised the Democratic Party during a 2021 interview with Marie Claire magazine.

The Office of Special Counsel declined to charge any of the Biden administration officials with a crime. It's a far cry from the office's response to former Housing and Urban Development official Lynne Patton, a Trump appointee who was charged with violating the Hatch Act for her participation in a Republican National Convention video about subpar public housing conditions. The Office of Special Counsel in 2021 levied a $1,000 fine on Patton and barred her from future federal employment.

Though the Biden administration is willing to violate the Hatch Act when doing so serves its political goals, White House officials frequently hide behind the law to avoid answering tough questions from the press. Most notably, Bates said the Hatch Act prohibited him from answering questions about the possibility that Hunter Biden was responsible for a baggie of cocaine found in the White House in July.

Protect the Public's Trust, a conservative watchdog group that filed Hatch Act complaints against Jean-Pierre, said the Office of Special Counsel's refusal to enforce the law against repeat offenders indicates they believe "certain officials are above the law."

"More broadly, the office's repeated lack of enforcement in recent years is likely to contribute to the perceptions both that the Hatch Act need not be taken seriously by officials and that the Office of Special Counsel could more aptly be considered the Office of Selective Enforcement," Protect the Public's Trust director Michael Chamberlain said Friday.

The White House did not return a request for comment.