President Donald Trump has drawn frequent criticism for his use of Twitter, but the use of the social media app is also causing trouble for other members of his administration. The Office of Special Counsel recently determined that Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley violated the Hatch Act when she retweeted a message from the president.
The tweet in question supported then-candidate Ralph Norman’s campaign to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the special election to replace Mick Mulvaney, who had been confirmed to the position of director of the Office of Management and Budget. Trump tweeted his support for Norman on June 19, and Haley retweeted it later that day.
On June 27, Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed an official complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, alleging that Haley’s retweet was in violation of the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act generally prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on-duty or in the workplace, while wearing an official uniform, insignia, or using a government vehicle. It applies to all executive branch employees, except the president and vice president.
In addition, the act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to interfere with the results of an election.
“As the recent former governor of South Carolina, Ambassador Haley may care deeply about her party’s electoral performance in the state, but the rules separating politics from official government work still apply,” Bookbinder said in a June 27 statement.
On Sept. 28, OSC issued a decision: Haley was in violation of the Hatch Act, and received an official warning letter from the agency. Although her Twitter account, @nikkihaley, had been her personal account before becoming U.N. ambassador, OSC determined that it now gave the impression of being an official account.
“At the time of the retweet at issue, her Twitter profile picture was an official government headshot with the American flag displayed behind her, and her Twitter header picture was a photograph of Ambassador Haley with President Trump and other members of the United Nations Security Council in a room at the White House,” OSC said in a Sept. 28 letter to CREW. “Her profile information listed her as ‘United States Ambassador to the United Nations,’ and many of her posts and photographs were about and of official matters. In addition, the homepage of the official website for the United States Mission to the United Nations included a link to the @nikkihaley account.”
Haley deleted the tweet in question when she became aware that it likely violated the Hatch Act. OSC found no other inappropriate political content on her account.
About two weeks before Haley violated the Hatch Act, the OSC reprimanded another Trump administration official, White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino, for a similar infraction. Scavino sent a tweet encouraging supporters of the president to defeat Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) in the next primary. Similarly, OSC determined that his previously personal account now gave the impression of being an official account.
CREW also filed the official complaint that led to the Scavino investigation, as well as one against Kellyanne Conway when she promoted Ivanka Trump products.
“One is unfortunate, two is a coincidence, but three in less than a year is a pattern,” Bookbinder said in an Oct. 3 statement. “This all stems from the president’s permissive attitude toward ethics; the tone is set at the top.”