WASHINGTON – More than a dozen high-level Trump administration officials improperly used their official government powers to try to influence the 2020 election, according to a federal watchdog’s investigation released on Tuesday.
Among the 13 officials accused of engaging in illegal campaign activity: President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, his acting homeland security chief Chad Wolf and his counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“Senior Trump administration officials chose to use their official authority not for the legitimate functions of the government, but to promote the reelection of President Trump in violation of the law,” the probe found. The federal Hatch Act bars government officials from engaging in partisan political activity.
The investigation was conducted by the federal Office of Special Counsel, which received a stream of ethics complaints during the 2020 election – particularly after Pompeo and Wolf took part in the Republican National Convention.
The OSC report describes a pervasive willingness to flout the law inside the Trump White House and suggests, in Pompeo’s case at least, that the president himself may have encouraged the illegal activity.
The special counsel offered new details about Pompeo’s decision to deliver a speech to the RNC from Israel, which conflicted with State Department policy and violated the Hatch Act.
Before his speech, Pompeo quietly approved a change to the State Department’s policy, which “until then had prohibited him and all other political appointees at the State Department from engaging in many partisan political activities, such as addressing a political party convention,” the OSC report says.
The change came just days before Pompeo delivered his highly unusual speech from Jerusalem and applied only to him, saying the secretary of state was “not restricted from addressing a political party convention when requested by or for the President.”
“That decision was made against the advice provided to Secretary Pompeo by senior State Department lawyers,” the OSC report says.
Pompeo staunchly defended the speech after it sparked a firestorm of criticism.
More:‘It is just so wrong’: Mike Pompeo under fire for speaking to RNC from Israel“The State Department reviewed this. It was lawful,” Pompeo said in September 2020 when questioned about it. “And I personally felt it was important that the world hear the message of what this administration has accomplished.”
Wolf’s violation involved an Aug. 25 naturalization ceremony, which he and Trump presided over in the Cross Hall of the White House. Footage of the ceremony was then broadcast that evening as part of the GOP convention program.
“The evidence that OSC gathered shows that this official U.S. government event was scheduled and conducted for the purpose of producing content to be used at the RNC,” the OSC said.
The Trump administration’s failure to discipline anyone who engaged in violating the Hatch Act “created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch.”
“Some officials in the Trump administration intentionally ignored the law’s requirements and tacitly or expressly approved of senior administration officials violating the law,” the report says.