HUD official issued warning for violating Hatch Act

HUD official issued warning for violating Hatch Act
Copyright 2019 CNN
Lynne Patton

The US Office of Special Counsel issued a warning to Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Lynne Patton for violating the Hatch Act’s prohibition of certain political activities by federal employees.

Patton, a longtime Trump family associate who planned Eric Trump’s wedding and is now a high-ranking political appointee, “liked” partisan political tweets from her official Twitter account and unwittingly displayed a Trump campaign hat in her government office, according to a Wednesday letter from the office to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The watchdog group had previously issued two complaints to the office about Patton’s actions.

The Office of Special Counsel, which is not associated with former special counsel Robert Mueller, found Patton had violated the Hatch Act and issued her a warning letter, but said it will not pursue disciplinary action. Patton has been advised, according to the letter, that if she violates the act again it will be considered a willful and knowing violation of the law and could result in further action.

The Office of Special Counsel conducted an investigation and found that Patton, who is in charge of public housing in New York and New Jersey, had “liked” four tweets in violation of the Hatch Act, according to the letter posted by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on its website. The Office of Special Counsel told CNN its policy is to send Hatch Act findings only to the complainant and the subject of the complaint, and confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

Patton “liked” a tweet by President Donald Trump endorsing Ron DeSantis’ Florida gubernatorial candidacy and a tweet from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel that opposed Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Patton also “liked” a tweet by the RNC advocating Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state and a tweet from Kanye West that read, “my MAGA hat is signed,” and included a picture of his signed campaign hat.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained that Patton displayed a campaign hat — a red “USA” hat — in her Department of Housing and Urban Development office, and the investigation found that neither Patton nor HUD ethics counsel had realized Trump’s campaign was selling the hat until after the allegation was made public. Patton removed the hat from display when she became aware it was an item sold by the campaign, according to the letter.

Patton said in a statement, “I am grateful that the Office of Special Counsel remains an unbiased voice in Washington DC that examines complaints based upon their merits instead of their number of retweets.”

She continued, “OSC has determined that I did not violate the Hatch Act as it pertained to my attendance at the Michael Cohen hearing, as well as my tweet defending Secretary Carson. To the contrary, OSC decided not to pursue disciplinary action at all for two minor infractions.”

“I look forward to continuing to focus on the residents of New York and New Jersey, whose well-being I care about the most,” the statement reads.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for comment.

The Hatch Act is intended to stop the federal government from influencing elections or carrying out official activities in a partisan manner, and it applies to federal workers as well as state and local employees who work with federally funded programs. The rule is a workplace guideline, and violating it is not a crime. Responses can vary significantly if employees violate the rule.

Patton served as vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation and worked as an event planner for the Trump family. She was among the speakers at the 2016 Republican National Convention and was a campaign surrogate. After the presidential election, Patton began working at HUD, where her tenure has been marked by outspoken and controversial personal tweets. Patton called White House correspondent April Ryan “Miss Piggy” on Twitter, for which she later apologized.

The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency within the federal government tasked with enforcing several rules, including the Hatch Act.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Rene Marsh contributed to this report.