The federal agency charged with policing the political activity of federal employees has determined that FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly violated federal law in February when he instructed a crowd of people to vote for President Trump, according to a letter obtained by Gizmodo.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act when he told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to “make sure President Trump gets re-elected,” the letter says. The OSC wrote that O’Rielly “violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election.”
The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, forbids most federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on the job.
The OSC issued O’Rielly a warning stating that another violation would be considered “a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1215.”
The determination came in response to a complaint filed by American Oversight, a non-partisan watchdog group led by Austin Evers, former senior counsel at the US State Department.
“Commissioner O’Rielly flouted the requirements of his position when he pushed for Trump’s re-election, and OSC’s conclusion that he violated the Hatch Act confirms our concern that O’Rielly is undermining the independence of the FCC,” Evers said.
Evers was not satisfied, however, with OSC’s decision to simply warn O’Rielly. “Public trust in the FCC won’t be restored until O’Rielly resigns,” he said.
Incidentally, because O’Rielly is a presidential appointee and policymaker confirmed by the Senate, President Trump has sole authority to decide if O’Rielly should be face disciplinary action.
In February, O’Rielly attended CPAC where he spoke on a panel alongside FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow commissioner Brendan Carr. O’Rielly was introduced using his government job title and spoke primarily on topics related to FCC business, leaving no doubt that he was attending the event in his official capacity.
While answering a question from one crowd member, O’Rielly said: “I think what we can do is make sure as conservatives we elect good people to both the House, the Senate, and make sure that President Trump gets re-elected.”
Despite his clearness of his words, O’Rielly told OSC “that he was not advocating for President Trump’s reelection but was attempting to answer the questions asked, which he understood to be about preventing the next Administration from reversing the FCC’s net neutrality decision.”
The FCC did not immediately return a request for comment.