WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro knowingly and willfully violated federal law by attacking then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden while serving in his official capacity, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said on Monday.
The federal watchdog agency explained its conclusion in a 13-page report to Trump, leaving it up the president to determine what it called “appropriate disciplinary action.”
The agency is continuing to investigate other alleged violations of the Hatch Act of 1939 by the Trump campaign and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The law limits the political activities of federal employees except the president and vice president.
“OSC’s investigation determined that Dr. Navarro violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election by engaging in political activity during official media appearances and on his official Twitter account,” the agency said.
From May 26 through Oct. 19, Navarro lambasted Biden, who won the Nov. 3 presidential election, and his running mate Kamala Harris, during at least six media interviews in which he appeared in his official capacity, the report said.
“Dr. Navarro often attacked Mr. Biden about his relationship with China and at times accused him of being ‘compromised’ and susceptible to being ‘bought’ by China, even nicknaming him ‘Beijing Biden,’” it said.
The Office of Special Counsel said Navarro chose not to respond to the report. It said he continued to engage in the behavior despite being trained on the Hatch Act, and even after OSC launched its investigation.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner last year recommended that Trump fire adviser Kellyanne Conway after multiple violations of the Hatch Act, but he refused.
U.S. Representative Don Beyer, the Democratic vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, told Reuters that while Navarro was unlikely to face consequences, a rank-and-file federal worker who engaged in similar behavior would likely have been fired.
In its report, OSC said the White House counsel’s Office had claimed Navarro did not violate the law, and that his statements “about Joe Biden and his ‘kowtowing to the Chinese’ were the kind of factual, policy-based statements acceptable for him to make in his official capacity,” OSC said.
But that was not the case, the watchdog said.
“A federal employee acting in his official capacity violates the Hatch Act when, as here, he makes statements intended to encourage others to vote for or against a candidate for partisan political office or otherwise promotes or disparages that candidate’s campaign. Dr. Navarro violated the Hatch Act because he engaged in that very activity,” it said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Jonathan Landay and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis
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