First lady’s spokeswoman may have misused official position in tweet about Trump’s 2016 campaign, complaint alleges

Stephanie Grisham, now communications director for the Office of the First Lady, hands former White House press secretary Sean Spicer a note as he speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House on Jan. 30, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)  

A tweet by the first lady’s spokeswoman from her official account containing a photo from the president’s 2015 campaign rally and his campaign slogan may have violated a federal law that prohibits public employees from using their official capacity to conduct political activity, according to a complaint filed Monday with federal investigators.

Stephanie Grisham, first lady Melania Trump’s communications director, tweeted on July 11 from her official Twitter account in celebration of her third-year anniversary of joining the Trump team during the presidential campaign. The tweet included a hashtag (#MAGA) representing the 2016 Trump campaign’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Attached with the tweet was a July 11, 2015, photo from President Trump’s rally in Phoenix, which displayed then-candidate Trump and his campaign slogan sign on the far-left side of the photo.

Government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claimed the tweet ran afoul of the Office of Special Counsel’s guidance on the Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees from using their official capacity to conduct political activity. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is a separate agency from the Justice Department’s special counsel’s office.

The Office of Special Counsel in March issued updated guidance on Hatch Act restrictions after Trump officially announced his reelection campaign. The federal investigator’s office noted that the prohibition on political activity by federal employees is “broad and encompasses more than displays or communications (including in-person and via email or social media) that expressly advocate for or against President Trump’s reelection.”

The office warned federal employees against communications, either in person or electronically, directed at the success or failure of a partisan political office, including displaying any items with Trump’s 2016 campaign materials.

“For example, while on duty or in the workplace, employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns; use hashtags such as #MAGA or #ResistTrump in social media posts or other forums; or display nonofficial pictures of President Trump,” the guidance says.

Because Grisham tweeted from her official White House Twitter account, which lists her official position as the first lady’s communications director in her bio, the tweet about her service on the Trump 2016 campaign constitutes political activity under the Hatch Act, CREW’s complaint argues.

Grisham and the White House press office did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, the Office of Special Counsel found that Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, violated the Hatch Act on two occasions by making public comments supportive of one candidate and against another ahead of a special Senate election in Alabama last year. Last year, the office found White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. violated the law when he posted on Twitter urging Trump’s supporters to defeat a GOP congressman, Justin Amash, in Michigan.

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