Two top White House officials willfully violated a longstanding federal ethics law on Wednesday, setting up a legal showdown between the Biden administration and the Office of Special Counsel.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and her deputy, Andrew Bates, issued statements Wednesday containing several references to "MAGA," just one week after authorities at the Office of Special Counsel said it was illegal for federal employees to use the slogan in their official capacity. The prosecutorial agency said the use of former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan constitutes partisan political activity and is a violation of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal officials from using taxpayer funds to influence elections.
The White House’s willingness to violate the Hatch Act underscores the Biden administration’s dedication to smearing Republicans as "MAGA." Administration officials have frequently deployed the phrase since the president first uttered "Ultra-MAGA" in the leadup to the 2022 elections. The White House initially claimed Biden came up with the phrase himself, but the Washington Post later revealed the messaging was the focus-group-tested result of a six-month research project from the Center for American Progress Action Fund under the leadership of Biden aide Anita Dunn.
Government investigators notified Jean-Pierre in a June 7 letter that she violated the Hatch Act by uttering "MAGA Republicans" during a November press conference. The Office of Special Counsel warned Jean-Pierre that if she continued to use the phrase, they "would consider it a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in OSC pursuing disciplinary action."
Instead of heeding their legal guidance, Jean-Pierre used the phrase twice in a statement Wednesday evening attacking a "hardcore MAGA budget" released by the Republican Study Committee that would slash spending by $16.3 trillion over the next 10 years. Bates also attacked the legislation in a memo Wednesday that contained three instances of the prohibited phrase.
Calling their statements a "deliberate thumb in the eye" of federal authorities, the watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel on Thursday morning, demanding a formal investigation into the White House’s "deliberate decision" to flout the agency’s legal guidance.
"Is this the behavior the American public should expect from the self-proclaimed most ethical administration in history?" Protect the Public’s Trust director Michael Chamberlain told the Washington Free Beacon. "We were promised a return to normalcy, respect for the rule of law, and decency. Yet what we are getting is open mockery of rules and standards in pursuit of political advantage."
"Anyone wondering why trust in government continues its downward spiral need look no further than this episode," Chamberlain added.
Reached for comment about the administration’s use of ‘MAGA Republicans,’ Bates provided a lengthy statement alleging the ethics complaint is moot because the watchdogs behind it are themselves MAGA Republicans.
"If a former Trump campaign spokesperson who later worked under Betsy DeVos in an administration that incurred a historic number of Hatch Act violations qualifies as an 'independent watchdog' simply because they bought a nametag, then I would like for you to describe me in this article as an [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards] winner and Olympic gold medalist," said Bates, who was previously "active in school theatrical productions" and once hoped to live as a thespian.
"We take the Hatch Act seriously, and note that this exact phrase has been used countless times by Republicans in elective office to refer to official policy proposals, agendas, and related values," Bates added. "We have only every [sic] used it in the same way."
The Biden administration has a sordid history with the Hatch Act. Former press secretary Jen Psaki, former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm have all violated the longstanding ethics law, according to investigations from the Office of Special Counsel.