It seems that is happening again as Trump’s convention seizes government property and abuses the power of his office to put on a show for his base. Many in the media insist on giving style points to first lady Melania Trump for her convention speech from the White House on Tuesday night rather than identifying her participation in a massive Hatch Act violation. It is of little consequence that she reads sympathetic comments about pandemic victims — a pandemic Trump now ignores and about which he shows no regret — if she does so illegally using the trappings of government power.
In focusing on the “precedent” and not the illegality of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s participation in the Republican convention, the media bury the lede. It is not a “break with protocol” nor a “departure from tradition”; it is a violation of the Hatch Act and State Department rules. According to Pompeo’s own warning to his agency: “It is important that the department’s employees do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process, and that they adhere to the Hatch Act and Department policies in their own political activities.” As Donald Sherman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put it: “Secretary Pompeo can’t just flip a switch and go back and forth between serving as America’s chief diplomat and a Republican political operative while he’s in the Middle East on the government dime.” He added, “I think Secretary Pompeo’s conduct here is emblematic of the Trump administration’s approach to the Hatch Act and ethical norms relating to mixing official government conduct and political activity, the standards that apply to regular government employees just don’t apply to the president’s cronies."
When the president — who disparages “shithole” countries, ends temporary asylum for refugees, puts children in cages and seeks to limit legal immigration — uses his acting (and illegally serving, according to the Government Accountability Office) homeland security secretary Chad Wolf to perform an on-air naturalization process, you know the Republicans’ “law and order” message is pure hypocrisy.
The utter contempt for the law that the administration displays is captured by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who on Wednesday unabashedly declared of rampant violations of the Hatch Act, “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) responded on Twitter: “Trump believes he’s above the law. Meadows says no one cares. They’re wrong. This law exists because tax dollars shouldn’t be subsidizing the president’s re-election campaign . . . And Americans do care about the rule of law — even if it means nothing to Trump.”
Identifying lawbreaking must take prominence over theatrical critiques and “best and worst” columns awarding brownie points for sounding less bonkers than Donald Trump Jr. The president is not merely “using the trappings” of his office or “using incumbency to help his reelection." He is advertising his contempt for his oath and for the rule of law. The media need to hold him and every Republican officeholder who countenances such a travesty to account. And in the meantime, the media should shelve the reviews and elevate the legal analysis.
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