KJP’s 'MAGA Republicans' Comments Violated Federal Ethics Laws, Investigators Find

White House press secretary is the latest Biden official to violate the Hatch Act

Karine Jean-Pierre (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
June 13, 2023

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre flagrantly violated a major federal ethics law intended to safeguard taxpayer dollars from influencing elections, government investigators concluded.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that Jean-Pierre’s repeated use of the phrase "MAGA Republicans" during White House press briefings in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections violated the Hatch Act. The findings were the result of a seven-month investigation stemming from a complaint from the conservative watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, which alleged Jean-Pierre illegally attempted to influence voters when she referred to "mega MAGA Republican officials who don’t believe in the rule of law" during a Nov. 2 press briefing.

Although it found that Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act, the OSC chose not to impose any disciplinary action against the press secretary, saying it was unclear whether the White House Counsel’s Office knew using the phrase "MAGA Republicans" would put officials on the wrong side of the law.

"We have advised Ms. Jean-Pierre that should she again engage in prohibited political activity, OSC would consider it a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in OSC pursuing disciplinary action," Hatch Act Unit Chief Ana Galindo-Marrone said in a June 7 letter to Protect the Public’s Trust.

Violating the Hatch Act is somewhat of a rite of passage for President Joe Biden’s press secretaries. Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, violated the 1939 law when she endorsed Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign during a White House press briefing. The Hatch Act forbids federal employees from "using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election and knowingly soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions from any person."

Former White House chief of staff Ron Klain also put himself on the wrong side of the Hatch Act in May 2022, when he retweeted a message from a left-wing political action committee thanking President Joe Biden for addressing the infant formula crisis and linking to the group’s online store. The OSC concluded Klain violated the Hatch Act, but decided not to charge him with a crime.

More recently, in April, the OSC ruled that Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra "crossed the line" when he lavished praise on Sen. Alex Padilla (D., Calif.) during a taxpayer-funded event before the 2022 elections. The government investigators pilloried Becerra for his actions, saying he undermined "the viability of the Hatch Act and its purpose of ensuring a federal civil service free of partisan political influence."

Despite the evidence to the contrary, White House spokesman Andrew Bates claimed the Biden administration takes the law "seriously" and strives to uphold the Hatch Act. "We are reviewing this opinion," he told NBC News on Thursday.

Protect the Public’s Trust director Michael Chamberlain said the OSC's decision not to penalize Jean-Pierre for violating the law shows why Americans "increasingly distrust the Biden Administration’s promises to be the most ethical in history."

"The Hatch Act was a law used to pillory previous administrations, but officials now appear content to sweep it under the rug," Chamberlain told NBC News.