Wild socks worn to an official event by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were not only in questionable taste, they also broke the law.
It’s a violation of the Hatch Act for most federal employees to use their position to promote partisan politics. Zinke’s colorful socks featured an image of President Donald Trump with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Zinke wore them last June during an official visit to Mount Rushmore. He also tweeted a close-up photo of them at the time, quipping: “Breaking in new socks on a hike with the governors.”
“Because Secretary Zinke wore these socks to an official event and also authorized their display on his official Twitter account, he violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official position to influence an election,” Ana Galindo-Marrone, head of the Hatch Act unit of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, concluded in a letter.
Zinke deleted the tweet and apologized after complaints.
Galindo-Marrone’s letter to the Campaign for Accountability, which had filed the Hatch Act complaint against Zinke, was issued shortly after Zinke’s announcement in December that he would resign amid several ongoing ethics investigations.
The letter was first reported last week by The Washington Post.
The OSC letter recommended a “warning” instead of any penalty for Zinke’s failure to toe the Hatch Act line.
A number of Trump administration officials have violated the Hatch Act. Late last year, OSC reported that six administration staffers had violated the law.
Politico reported that formal complaints to the OSC about potential Hatch Act violations increased nearly 30% during Trump’s first year in office. Last month, Lynne Patton, a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, wrote that she “honestly” didn’t care if she broke the law by retweeting a partisan comment from social media.
White House aide Kellyanne Conway was given a warning after violating the law early in 2017 when she promoted Ivanka Trump’s products during a national television interview. She also “violated the Hatch Act in two television interviews” in 2017 with comments about candidates in Alabama’s special election in her “official capacity,” the OSC determined.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed two more complaints just last month accusing Conway of Hatch Act violations for attacking Democratic presidential candidates in TV interviews.
“Blah, blah, blah,” Conway said last month when a reporter challenged her on the complaints.
“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” she said. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”