USDA head cited for breaking law by backing Trump reelection
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal surveillance agency has concluded that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue broke the law on a visit to North Carolina in August campaigning for President Donald Trump's re-election. The Office of Special Counsel asked Perdue to reimburse the government for costs associated with attending the event.
The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. Trump's White House has dismissed alleged violations of the law over the years.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico in late August that "no one outside the Beltway really cares about the concerns of the Hatch Act" raised during the GOP nomination convention. The White House also declined to respond to calls by the Office of Special Counsel last year to dismiss then Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway for being a "repeat offender" of the Hatch Act. Conway has since left the White House.
The Office of Special Counsel said Perdue could relate to the president's actions and how the government is helping American citizens. In North Carolina, however, he also voted to re-elect the president and encouraged those in attendance and remote watchers to support Trump's re-election.
"While Secretary Perdue has an undisputed first adjustment right to advertise the President in his spare time and in his personal capacity, he has no such right to do so in his official capacity and at the taxpayer's expense," wrote Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief executive the guard dog's hatch act unit. The letter was addressed to an official with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private advocacy group that had filed a complaint against Perdue about his statements in North Carolina.
The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Galindo-Marrone said the department defended Perdue by saying it did not encourage attendees to vote for any candidate or party. Instead, Perdue predicted future behavior based on the president's focus on helping "forgotten people" and "suffering farmers."
"We have never seen so much compassion for people who are important because people are important to you," Perdue said of Trump. "And that is important to me. And that is exactly what will happen in four more years, if America gets out and votes for this man, Donald J. Trump," said Perdue and asked the audience to sing "another four years".
The Office of Special Counsel said it would close its file on the matter once Perdue provided the federal treasury with documents regarding his reimbursement. It said that if he continues to engage in prohibited political activity as secretary, "we will view such activity as a knowledgeable and willful violation of the law that is likely to lead to further action."
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