WASHINGTON – A federal watchdog reported on Monday that one of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers repeatedly broke the law during the election campaign with his criticism of Joe Biden, now president-elect.
The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from engaging in political work while performing their official duties. The law enforcement agency said Peter Navarro, director of the White House’s Office for Trade and Manufacturing Policy, used his position to influence the 2020 presidential election through his statements in interviews television and social media.
“His comments were aimed at undermining Mr. Biden’s presidential candidacy and persuading voters not to support him in the 2020 election,” the Office of the Special Counsel report said.
White House lawyers have claimed Navarro did not violate the Hatch Act because the factual or political statements do not constitute a plea for or against a candidate, according to the report. They argued, for example, that Navarro’s statement about Biden “bowing down to the Chinese” was acceptable to him in his official capacity.
But the Office of Special Counsel found this argument missing. He said federal employees break the law when they make statements designed to encourage others to vote for or against a candidate for political office or when they promote or denigrate a candidate’s campaign.
“Dr. Navarro violated the Hatch Act because he engaged in this same activity,” the report says.
The report says it is up to the president to determine “appropriate disciplinary action,” showing the limits of the law. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private advocacy group, said it had submitted several complaints about Navarro to the Office of Special Counsel and that “the referral for action demonstrates the seriousness of Navarro’s misconduct.”
“In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election, Navarro has been one of the worst,” said group executive director Noah Bookbinder.
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