(WASHINGTON)—Today, the Project On Government Oversight sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel requesting it open an investigation into potential violations of the Hatch Act by Mick Mulvaney—the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff—as well as by Ambassador Gordon Sondland for engaging in prohibited political activity. Mulvaney and Sondland appear to have used their official authority to attempt to sway an upcoming election, and if substantiated, this would be a violation of the Hatch Act.
Under a little-known criminal provision that applies to “any person,” Mulvaney’s and Sondland’s acts may also criminally implicate President Donald Trump if the evidence establishes that Trump directed federal officials to take actions that constitute Hatch Act violations.
The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in certain political activities while functioning in their official governmental capacity. The Act defines political activity as “activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.” According to the Office of Special Counsel, the law exists “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion” and “to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace.”
In addition, last month, a whistleblower alleged that Trump was using the power of his office to solicit interference in the 2020 presidential election by withholding military aid for Ukraine unless its president agreed to launch or renew an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
According to an October 4 letter from Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the late Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Vice President Mike Pence, “President Trump ordered Acting Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney to freeze the military aid to Ukraine.”
While the president and vice president are not covered by the Hatch Act’s restrictions under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, other federal officials are. POGO’s letter cites numerous reports of actions and statements by Mulvaney and Sondland that appear to show them abusing their official authority through their involvement in using taxpayer resources with the aim of harming a domestic political opponent, which would be a Hatch Act violation.
If Trump ordered Mulvaney to withhold foreign military aid from Ukraine unless Kyiv opened an investigation into the Bidens, he could be in violation of section 610 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. If the facts warrant it, the Office of Special Counsel would be required to refer the case to the Justice Department.
Yesterday, a former federal prosecutor who worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York published a Washington Post op-ed making a similar argument to POGO’s.
Media Contacts: Nick Schwellenbach, Senior Investigator at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), [email protected] or 202-347-1122; or Tim Farnsworth, Chief Communications Strategist at POGO, [email protected]
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.