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White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act for using the term “mega MAGA” while giving press briefings, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel has determined.

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According to the watchdog group, Jean-Pierre has received a warning letter.

The OSC sent a letter explaining the violation to Michael Chamberlain, a former Trump administration official and director of the Protect the Public’s Trust organization after Chamberlain filed a complaint against Jean-Pierre. He said in the complaint that Jean-Pierre used the phrase “mega MAGA Republican[s]” in an “inappropriate attempt to influence the vote.”

“OSC has investigated your allegation and concluded that Ms. Jean‐Pierre violated the Hatch Act. However … we have decided not to pursue disciplinary action and have instead issued Ms. Jean‐Pierre a warning letter,” OSC’s Hatch Act Unit chief Ana Galindo-Marrone said in the June 7 letter.

Galindo-Marrone wrote, “OSC concluded that the timing, frequency, and content of Ms. Jean‐Pierre’s references to ‘MAGA Republicans’ established that she made those references to generate opposition to Republican candidates. Accordingly, making the references constituted political activity. Because Ms. Jean‐Pierre made the statements while acting in her official capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

What is the Hatch Act? Here’s a look at the legislation:

What is the Hatch Act?

The goal of the Hatch Act is “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.” The act was established in 1939 and most recently updated in 2012.

Which federal employees are included under the Hatch Act?

A handful of federal employees, including the president and vice president, are exempt under the act. Here is a list of those included in the act:

  • Administrative law judges (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372)
  • the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Contract Appeals Boards (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372a)
  • the Criminal Division (Department of Justice)
  • the Defense Intelligence Agency
  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • the Federal Election Commission
  • the Merit Systems Protection Board
  • the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  • the National Security Agency
  • the National Security Council
  • the Office of Criminal Investigation (Internal Revenue Service)
  • the Office of Investigative Programs (Customs Service)
  • the Office of Law Enforcement (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)
  • the United States Office of Special Counsel
  • the Secret Service
  • the Senior Executive Service

What can government employees do; what are they prohibited from doing?

Those employees under the act may:

  • Register and vote as they choose.
  • Assist in voter registration drives.
  • Express opinions about candidates and issues.
  • Participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party.
  • Contribute money to political organizations or attend political fundraising functions.
  • Attend political rallies and meetings.
  • Join political clubs or parties.
  • Sign nominating petitions.
  • Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances.

They may not:

  • Be candidates for public office in partisan elections.
  • Campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections.
  • Make campaign speeches.
  • Collect contributions or sell tickets to political fundraising functions.
  • Distribute campaign material in partisan elections.
  • Organize or manage political rallies or meetings.
  • Hold office in political clubs or parties.
  • Circulate nominating petitions.
  • Work to register voters for one party only.
  • Wear political buttons at work.

What is the penalty?

Penalties range from a reprimand or suspension to removal from federal employment. The Merit System Protection Board determines if a hearing is needed to address the finding of a violation of the Hatch Act and considers whether removal is appropriate on the basis of the seriousness of the violation.

The department the employee works for could also be called to forfeit federal funds equal to two years of pay at the rate the employee was receiving at the time of the violation.