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Watchdog group calls for Psaki to be investigated over possible Hatch Act violation

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, July 12, 2021. Evan Vucci/AP
  • A government watchdog group has called for an investigation into whether Jen Psaki violated the Hatch Act.

  • The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits top government employees from engaging in some forms of political activity.

  • The issue relates to comments Psaki made on Thursday about the upcoming governor race in Virginia.

A government watchdog group on Friday called for an investigation into whether White House press secretary Jen Psaki's recent comments on Virginia's gubernatorial election violated ethics laws.

The group wants the US Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, to review if Psaki's conduct at a White House press briefing on Thursday violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits top government employees from engaging in political activity.

Psaki's comments related to Virginia's gubernatorial race on November 2 between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP political newcomer and businessman, Glenn Youngkin.

"I'm curious if the White House sees the Virginia governor's race as a bellwether," a reporter asked Psaki during a press briefing Thursday. "And if the outcome is basically a ... support of the President's agenda since McAuliffe is running on it quite a bit."

Psaki responded that she has "to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here."

"The president, of course, wants former governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia," she said. "There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges, or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce."

"I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey that off-year elections are often not a bellwether," Psaki added. "And there's a lot of history here in Virginia. But again, we're going to do everything we can to help former governor McAuliffe and we believe in the agenda he's representing."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wrote to the US Office of Special Counsel that Psaki "appears to have used her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election, political activity that is prohibited by law."

"These actions were directed specifically toward the success or failure of a political candidate in a partisan race," CREW wrote.

The White House did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Other Biden administration officials have come under scrutiny for potential Hatch Act violations. The Office of Special Counsel concluded in May that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge breached the law when she spoke about the 2022 Senate election in Ohio during a White House press briefing appearance in March.

Under former President Donald Trump, several officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, were criticized for pushing the boundaries of the same federal law. Former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was found to have violated the Hatch Act and recommend to be removed from her position. Trump and those in his circle regularly downplayed the issue.

"Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares" if Trump's top officials violate a federal law for political activity, Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows said last year.

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