Since rising from longtime Trump family aide to her $160,000 post as a top federal housing official, Lynne Patton has pushed political boundaries. There was her temporary move into New York public housing. Her surprise cameo at the Michael Cohen hearing. Her invocation of the Trump family name in a failed attempt to get a HUD colleague fired. And her inquiry into starring in a reality-TV show.

On Wednesday, a government watchdog determined that Patton, who oversees the New York and New Jersey region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, violated a law barring federal executive branch employees from engaging in political activities using their titles while on duty or in a federal building.

Patton’s offense? A series of Twitter “likes” between December 2017 and April 2018 from her official HUD account.

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Among Patton’s illegally “hearted” tweets:

  • President Trump’s endorsement of now-Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • The Republican National Committee chairwoman’s opposition to Democrat Joe Manchin III’s U.S. Senate candidacy.
  • A GOP post favoring Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state.
  • And Kanye West’s photo of his autographed Trump campaign hat.

“Liking tweets that advocate for or against partisan political candidates, originate from a political party, or include pictures of campaign material constitutes political activity for purposes of the Hatch Act,” wrote Erica S. Hamrick, deputy chief of the Hatch Act Unit of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, in a letter to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the organization that brought the complaints against Patton.

In addition, the Office of Special Counsel determined that Patton violated the Hatch Act when she posed in her HUD office for a photo that accompanied a New York magazine article about her new role. In the photo, Patton was seated with her hands clasped atop her desk. Perched on a bookcase above her head was a red USA hat that turned out to be an “official USA 45th presidential hat” sold on the Trump/Pence campaign website.

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The special counsel’s office found that neither Patton nor the HUD ethics counsel realized the campaign was selling the hat until after the allegations came to light. Patton has removed the hat from her office.

The special counsel’s office concluded that while Patton violated the law by “unwittingly displaying a campaign hat in her office and ‘liking’ partisan political tweets on her official Twitter account,” it would not pursue any disciplinary action.

Patton, in a statement to The Washington Post, noted that the special counsel’s office cleared her in two other allegations made by CREW — that her appearance at the Cohen hearing and a tweet defending HUD Secretary Ben Carson also violated the Hatch Act.

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“I am grateful that the Office of Special Counsel remains an unbiased voice in Washington, D.C., that examines accusations based upon their merits instead of their number of retweets,” Patton said.

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CREW had flagged a retweet from Patton’s official and personal accounts of a message supporting Carson. Along with the retweet, Patton had written, in part, “It may be a Hatch Act violation. It may not be. Either way, I honestly don’t care anymore.”

The special counsel’s office found the retweet did not violate the law because Carson is not a candidate for political office. “And your own message, while seemingly dismissive of the Hatch Act, was not directed at the success or failure of a candidate or political party,” Hamrick wrote in a letter to Patton.

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As for Patton’s silent appearance at the House Oversight Committee hearing during Cohen’s testimony in February, the special counsel’s office determined that Patton had taken an unpaid day off and appeared at the hearing in her personal capacity.

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Hamrick warned Patton that any further prohibited political activity could result in discipline.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of CREW, noted that Patton is the 13th Trump official to be reprimanded for a Hatch Act violation. The Office of Special Counsel in June recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from federal office for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” Trump refused to fire Conway.

“After years of serving Donald Trump’s interests, it appears that Lynne Patton is still doing so in her taxpayer-funded job,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “In a democracy, laws preventing the government from acting to keep itself in power are crucial, and we will work tirelessly to see that they are enforced.”

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