Government Watchdog: Karine Jean-Pierre Violated Hatch Act With ‘Mega MAGA Republicans’ Remarks

Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary, violated the Hatch Act, the federal law limiting specific political activities of federal employees to prevent influencing elections, according to a government watchdog. 

According to the Office of the Special Counsel, Jean-Pierre committed the violation last year in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections when she repeatedly referred to “mega MAGA Republicans” while acting in her official role as White House press secretary.”

“Because Ms. Jean-Pierre made the statements while acting in her official capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election,” said Ana Galindo-Marrone, who leads the agency’s Hatch Act Unit, in a letter Wednesday.

Jean-Pierre, who cites the Hatch Act during her daily White House press briefing to frequently avoid answering questions related to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaigns or other candidates, made the comments during a November 2 briefing. 

“Unfortunately, we have seen mega MAGA Republican officials who don’t believe in the rule of law. They refuse to accept the results of free and fair elections and fan the flames of political violence through what they praise and refuse to condemn. It remains important for the President to state strongly and unequivocally that violence has no place in our democracy,” Jean-Pierre said.

The President previously introduced the term “mega MAGA” on October 21 while attacking Republican economic policies as “mega MAGA trickle down.”

The agency’s letter described the press secretary’s comments as “an inappropriate attempt to influence the vote” and added that it “decided to close this matter without further action.”

The letter also noted that the White House Counsel “did not at the time believe that Ms. Jean-Pierre’s remarks were prohibited” and stated it had issued Jean-Pierre “a warning letter.”

The group called Jean-Pierre’s remarks “an inappropriate attempt to influence the vote.”

Office of the Special Counsel decided not to pursue disciplinary action

Despite finding Jean-Pierre in violation of the law, the Office of the Special Counsel “decided to close this matter without further action,” wrote Galindo-Marrone in last week’s letter to Protect the Public’s Trust, noting that the White House counsel’s office “did not at the time believe that Ms. Jean-Pierre’s remarks were prohibited.”

“We have decided not to pursue disciplinary action and have instead issued Ms. Jean-Pierre a warning letter,” wrote Galindo-Marrone. 

“[I]t is unclear whether OSC’s contrary analysis regarding the use of ‘MAGA Republicans’ was ever conveying to Ms. Jean-Pierre,” added Galindo-Marrone.

In response to the request for a comment, Andrew Bates, White House spokesperson, said in a statement: “As has been made clear throughout the administration, we take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act. We are reviewing this opinion.”

Former Trump administration official said Jean-Pierre’s violation of law shows why Americans “increasing distrust” Biden admin

Former Trump administration official Michael Chamberlain, head of Protect the Public’s Trust, said Jean-Pierre’s violation of the law without repercussion shows why Americans “increasingly distrust” the ethics claims of the Biden administration after it vowed to uphold the highest standards. 

“This episode illustrates exactly what people hate about Washington, D.C., and why they increasingly distrust the Biden Administration’s promises to be the most ethical in history,” said Chamberlain. “The Hatch Act was a law used to pillory previous administrations, but officials now appear content to sweep it under the rug.”

Officials with the Trump administration came under fire for breaching the law several times, with a November 2021 report from the Office of the Special Counsel characterizing their behavior as “especially pernicious” in light of the comments preceding the 2020 election.

“This failure to impose discipline created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch,” said the 2021 report.  

A Biden administration official argued Monday that Republicans frequently used the acronym “MAGA” for government purposes separate from campaigning. The official said that the Trump White House often used the term “Make America Great Again” almost 2,000 times for official purposes, along with congressional GOP members using the term “MAGA” for official purposes, including policy proposals and legislation. 

Recently, Jean-Pierre cited the Hatch Act when declining to comment on the announcement that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would challenge President Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, saying to reporters: “It’s 2024… I’m just not going to touch that with a 12-foot pole.” Jean-Pierre also used it to clarify an answer about whether Biden would be able to serve all eight years in office if he is re-elected. 

The Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra violated the Hatch Act last year when he expressed support for electing Democrat Senator Alex Padilla of California to a full term at an event last fall, said the Office of the Special Counsel this April. 

In October, Jean-Pierre acknowledged that President Biden’s chief of staff at the time, Ron Klain, had violated the Hatch Act when he retweeted a political message on his government Twitter account. She said the White House takes the provision seriously but that it is “not perfect.”