Add Hatch Act Violations to the Articles of Impeachment

While violations of the Hatch Act, which is designed to the use of executive branch powers by federal employees for partisan ends, by Trump administration minions are now de rigueur (party of Law and Order!), you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Il Trumpe himself has run afoul of this law too. Obviously, the president, who is a politician, can engage in politically-related activity, but there are certain activities that still are illegal, even for a president. The first illegality (boldface mine):

Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 610, makes it a crime — indeed, a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison — for “any person to intimidate, threaten, command, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, command, or coerce, any employee of the Federal Government . . . to engage in . . . any political activity.” Congress enacted this statute in 1993, amending the Hatch Act to provide “additional protections against political manipulation of the federal workforce,” as a 2017 Justice Department publication put it.

In short, the president and his aides cannot commandeer the federal bureaucracy in service of the president’s purely partisan political objectives as a candidate for office. Notably, Section 610 does not require a “quid pro quo,” nor does it require that the object of the political activity constitute a “thing of value” — conditions required to demonstrate extortion, bribery or violations of campaign finance law. If Trump commanded, coerced or intimidated State Department officials or other federal employees to engage in impermissible political activity — or attempted to do so — that would be a criminal violation of the Hatch Act. (This would also be true for other top officials who recruited government employees for the effort.)

The available evidence suggests that, on orders of the president and his acting chief of staff, career diplomats at the State Department were shunted aside to pave the way for an effort to push Ukraine to investigate Burisma Holdings (the company where Hunter Biden served as a director) and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker allegedly proceeded to press Ukrainian officials to do just that, using the promise of a White House meeting and, later, the release of much-needed military aid as inducements.

MOAR illegality:

Under Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 600, which was part of the original Hatch Act, it is a crime for anyone to promise a benefit made possible by an act of Congress as “consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party” in connection with an election. According to the Justice Department, Section 600 is triggered when “corrupt public officials use government-funded jobs or programs to advance a partisan political agenda rather than to serve the public interest.” Although a violation of Section 600 is a misdemeanor, the Justice Department says that in egregious cases it could support a felony charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States (by interfering with the fair and impartial administration of a federally funded program).

In other words, if the president or other officials tied the receipt of congressionally authorized military aid to Ukrainian help for the president’s reelection campaign, that too could constitute a criminal offense. Such a scheme would echo a Nixon White House effort, dubbed the “Responsiveness Program,” to channel federal grants and contracts to groups or individuals who promised to support Nixon’s reelection bid. The Senate Watergate Committee’s report concluded that this diversion of taxpayer money from its intended use “to the political goal of reelecting the President” probably involved a criminal violation of the Hatch Act and a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.

These are straightforward violations of federal law. Importantly, they are easy to understand: Il Trumpe used the power of presidency to serve his own political interest. Democrats would be fools not to add these violations to the Articles of Impeachment. Of course, Democrats weren’t serious about getting Trump’s tax returns*, so who knows what these gormless and hapless fools will do.

*Democratic Rep. Richard Neal played a big role in this failure. Support his primary challenger Alex Morse (who isn’t just ‘not Richard Neal’–he’s very good on the issues too).

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