Watchdog says Trump adviser broke law with Biden criticism

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Joe Biden, Politics, Watchdog
President-elect Joe Biden gestures to supporters at his victory speech on Saturday

A federal watchdog agency on Monday reported one of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers repeatedly violated the law during the election campaign by criticising Joe Biden.

The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from engaging in political work while performing their official duties. The agency charged with enforcing the act said Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office for Trade and Manufacturing Policy, used his position to influence the 2020 presidential election through his statements in television interviews and on social media.

“His comments were directed at undermining Mr Biden’s presidential candidacy and persuading voters not to support him in the 2020 election,” the Office of Special Counsel report said.

White House lawyers have asserted Dr Navarro did not violate the Hatch Act because factual or policy statements do not constitute advocacy for or against a candidate, the report stated. They argued, for example, that Dr Navarro’s statement about Mr Biden “kowtowing to the Chinese” was acceptable for him to make in his official capacity.

But the Office of Special Counsel found that argument lacking.

It said federal employees violated the law when they made statements intended to encourage others to vote for or against a candidate for political office or when they promote or disparage a candidate’s campaign.

“Dr Navarro violated the Hatch Act because he engaged in that very activity,” the report said.

The report said it was up to the president to determine the “appropriate disciplinary action”, showing the limits of the law. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private advocacy group, said it submitted multiple complaints about Dr Navarro to the Office of Special Counsel and that “the referral for action demonstrate the severity of Navarro’s misconduct”.

“In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election, Navarro has been one of the worst,” said the group’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder.

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