People involved in the planning said that no final decision had been made on the location of the Republican convention’s celebratory events. Trump abandoned plans to hold the full convention in Charlotte, and later Jacksonville, Fla., over concerns that large crowds could spread the novel coronavirus.
The South Lawn, which can be subject to intense heat and afternoon thunderstorms in late August, is one of several sites under consideration for the week of festivities, including the Trump International Hotel in D.C., which the president leases from the federal government, officials said. Any costs incurred by the government to host the events would be repaid, said the Republican, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Several hundred Republican delegates plan to gather for a pared-down session of official meetings on Aug. 24 in Charlotte to nominate Trump. That will be followed by three more days of speeches and programming from undetermined sites, culminating in Trump’s acceptance speech on Aug. 27.
In a press briefing last month, Trump dodged a question about holding the acceptance speech in the White House.
“We haven’t set that yet,” Trump said. “We’ll probably announce that over the next few days.”
The Republican familiar with the convention planning discussions said former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, who was moved to a senior adviser role last month, has been tasked with preparing videos that will be mixed in with live speeches over the four nights from Aug. 24-27. Republican officials hope to highlight average Americans who have benefited from Trump’s policies, a second Republican official said, and will not focus extensively on the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrats are also planning a four-day celebration, with a mix of live speeches and prerecorded video. Their program will run two hours a night, based out of a convention center in Milwaukee, with satellite sites around the country for other speeches, according to convention planners. Former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are both scheduled to speak, as well as Biden and his running mate. Biden will speak from Milwaukee, but other details have not been released.
Under federal law, government employees and property are generally barred from being used for political purposes, with notable exceptions. The Hatch Act, which prevents federal officials from certain forms of political activity at work, exempts both the president and the vice president from any restrictions.
The act also does not apply to “rooms in the White House or in the residence of the Vice President, which are part of the residence area or which are not regularly used solely in the discharge of official duties.” The New York Times reported Monday that a Trump speech from the confines of the White House was under consideration.
Past occupants of the White House, including Obama and former president George W. Bush, limited expressly political activity in the West Wing, choosing to take campaign meetings in the White House residence, or in the case of the Obama administration, in the Map Room which sits below the White House residence.
Kedric L. Payne, the senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, said a political speech at the White House would “become another example of the president exposing gaps in the law that must be closed,” while raising a number of complications.
“Government employees cannot wear or display campaign material at the White House,” he said. “The RNC would have a difficult time arguing that they can reimburse for the expenses, because how do you calculate such things as the fair market value of the White House lawn?”
Richard Painter, a Trump critic who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under Bush, said the challenge of staging a convention from the White House is not that Trump himself would be violating the law.
“He may not be violating the Hatch Act, but he is ordering other people to,” Painter said. “At a certain point you are using White House resources, and that is a violation of the Hatch Act.”
Potential Hatch Act violations are investigated by the Office of Special Counsel, which refers its findings back to the White House to take further action. But two Democratic lawyers, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said that while Hatch Act violations do not result in criminal prosecutions, the misuse of congressionally appropriated funds for a political purpose could be criminally enforceable, and the statute of limitations would not have run out in 2021, when the winner of this year’s election takes office.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, has offered mixed signals about his interest if he wins in November in pursuing Trump and his allies with investigations. Biden has said he would not pardon Trump for any criminal convictions. But he has also said he would not involve himself in Justice Department decisions about whether to launch any investigations of the Trump administration.
“In terms of having the Justice Department go look at an individual or whatever, the Justice Department is not my lawyer,” Biden said in a May appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”