Federal workers are being warned to leave that #ResistTrump coffee mug or “Make America Great Again” hat at home and to stop wading into political arguments on social media. Talking about the possibility of presidential impeachment at the water cooler, though, might be OK.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal investigative agency, has issued two memos on the subject in recent days in a bid to clarify the messy business of mixing politics and work when your boss is President Donald Trump. (The Office of Special Counsel has no affiliation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.)
The OSC said it had received “several questions” about what behavior might violate the Hatch Act, the 1939 law that restricts political activities of executive branch employees and protects federal employees from “political coercion.”
Can federal workers criticize the president at work? Can they talk impeachment? What about posting on social media with the hashtag #Resist?
In a memo to the nation’s estimated two million workers, the office said calling for a candidate’s impeachment at work is a no-no, as is using the hashtag #Resist if it refers to Trump. Context matters though.
For example, criticizing a White House policy while chatting with coworkers might be acceptable. But doing it in the context of the 2020 election? That could pose problems, according to the memo.
“There are no ‘magic words’ of express advocacy necessary in order for statements to be considered political activity under the Hatch Act,” according to the Nov. 27 memo, which was shared with ABC News. “Therefore, when a federal employee is prohibited by the Hatch Act from engaging in political activity — e.g., when on duty, in the federal workplace, or invoking official authority — the employee must be careful to avoid making statements directed toward the success or failure of, among others, a candidate for partisan political office.”
The memos were first reported by The New York Times. Several senior White House and administration officials have received warnings from OSC of violations, including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr.
Trump’s supporters have alleged that his agenda is being undermined by federal workers who are part of a “Deep State.” Trump has tweeted about such a conspiracy, specifically alleging that the FBI could be part of a conspiracy working against him.
The Hatch Act doesn’t apply to the president or vice president.
….Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2018
The OSC said the goal of the memos wasn’t to prevent all discussion of impeachment in the federal workforce. It’s more about cutting out the advocacy at work.
“For example, two employees may discuss whether reported conduct by the president warrants impeachment and express an opinion about whether the president should be impeached without engaging in political activity,” the OSC stated. “An employee may not, however, display in his or her office a poster that states ‘#Impeach45’ or place a ‘Don’t Impeach Trump’ bumper sticker on a government-owned vehicle because such conduct advocates for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office.”
#ResistHate and even #ResistKavanaugh, a reference to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is unlikely to run afoul of the Hatch Act because that wouldn’t necessarily factor into the success of a political party or candidate, the office determined.
It’s also OK if the worker is talking specifically of resisting something unrelated to Trump, like a pastry, the office noted.
“An employee would not be engaging in political activity by posting on social media ‘I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room,’” the office stated.