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White House social media director misused official position by going after GOP lawmaker, ethics experts say

White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. in the Oval Office on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A tweet by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. urging supporters of President Trump to challenge a GOP lawmaker may have violated a federal law that prohibits officials from using their positions for political activity, ethics experts said.

On Saturday, Scavino went after Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, calling him “a big liability” in a tweet from his personal account. "#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary,” he added.

Amash is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which Trump blames for derailing legislation that would have repealed parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

President Trump on March 30 tweeted that he would “fight” the House Freedom Caucus in the 2018 midterm elections after the group blocked the health-care bill. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Even though Scavino was tweeting from his personal account, the page at the time listed his official White House position and featured a photo of him inside the Oval Office, noted Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.

“You can't just load up your personal Twitter page with a lot of official stuff,” Painter said. “This is way over the top. It’s not a personal page. It's chock full of official stuff.”

Painter said he thinks Scavino's tweet violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of one's office for political purposes.

“We would have fired him” in the Bush White House, he said. “This is use of official position for a partisan election. You can’t avoid it.”

A White House official said the tweet did not violate the Hatch Act “as it clearly comes from his personal account and not his official White House account.”

“He created an official account upon entering the White House to ensure compliance with the Hatch Act, and he has taken the necessary steps to ensure there is a clear distinction between both Twitter accounts,” the official said.

By Sunday morning, Scavino had changed the biography on his personal Twitter page, removing the reference to his current post at the White House and noting solely that he was director of social media for Trump's campaign. He also altered the photo at the top of his personal and official pages, removing images of Trump supporters at a rally holding signs.

However, the profile photo on his personal account is still an image of Scavino inside the Oval Office. And in his apparent haste, he typed the wrong handle for the president, using @realDonaldTump instead of @realDonaldTrump. After the Washington Post noted the typo, Scavino removed the reference to Trump's handle.

Later Sunday, Scavino rejected the suggestion that he had done anything wrong when asked by a reporter on Twitter if he had a response to the ethics lawyers who say he violated the Hatch Act.

"What 'ethics lawyers?' The ones from the Obama Admin who want to take Trump down, or the Bush Admin who were ? No thanks!" he wrote.

This post has been updated.