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The Twitter-happy top federal housing official in New York violated the law barring government employees from using their posts to promote political campaigns, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel ruled Wednesday.
Lynne Patton, the New York-New Jersey regional administrator for the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), flouted the Hatch Act on four occasions in 2017 and 2018, according to the OSC ruling.
She did so by using her official HUD account to “like” tweets promoting campaign endorsements pushed by President Donald Trump, the GOP — and even Kanye West. The Hatch Act prohibits political activities by federal executive branch employees.
“After years of serving Donald Trump’s interests, it appears that Lynne Patton is still doing so in her taxpayer-funded job,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the nonpartisan watchdog group that filed the complaint.
The Office of Special Counsel warned Patton that any further prohibited political activity may result in discipline.
The OSC also reviewed a second referral about Patton earlier this year after she showed up at a Feb. 27 congressional hearing in which former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen alleged the president had made racist comments in the past.
She sat behind Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) as he questioned Cohen’s credibility while stating that Patton — a long-time event planner for the Trump family — had never heard the president say anything racist.
The OSC found they “could not conclude” Patton violated the Hatch Act during that appearance, writing in a letter to her: “Although you acknowledged you were there to support President Trump, OSC cannot conclude that your appearance at this Congressional hearing, without more, was directed at his success in the 2020 election.”
THE CITY reported that Patton skipped out on a daylong conference for HUD regional administrators so she could appear at the hearing — and that HUD’s inspector general looked into the matter and made the referral to OSC.
On Wednesday, Patton tweeted a response from her HUD account, describing the OSC’s findings regarding her Twitter “likes” as “minor infractions” and claiming OSC had cleared her of Hatch Act issues with the Cohen Hearing, along with another tweet she made on her HUD account defending her boss, Housing Secretary Ben Carson.
“I am grateful that the Office of Special Counsel is an unbiased voice in Washington D.C. that examines complaints based upon their merits instead of their number of retweets,” she wrote.
My official statement on today’s disposition by the Office of Special Council re: Hatch Act complaints pic.twitter.com/biGShXXwi8— Lynne Patton (HUD) (@LynnePattonHUD) September 18, 2019
“I look forward to continuing to focus on the residents of New York and New Jersey, whose well-being I care about the most,” she added.
Too Many ‘Likes’
In their finding against Patton, the OSC cited four tweets the HUD regional administrator “liked” with her official government account, @Lynnepattonhud:
• A Dec. 22, 2017, Trump tweet endorsing the candidacy of then-Congressman Ron DeSantis who was running for the Florida governorship.
• A Feb. 7, 2018, tweet from Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDanial slamming the honesty of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.
• An April 19, 2018, tweet from @GOP promoting the Senate confirmation of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.
• An April 19, 2018, tweet from Kanye West, which said, “my MAGA hat is signed” and included a photo of the red cap, the Trump campaign’s most recognizable item of merchandise.
“OSC concluded that Ms. Patton violated the Hatch Act by ‘liking’ these tweets because she used her official Twitter account to engage in the activity,” Special Counsel Deputy Chief Erica Hamrick wrote.
Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes - Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2018
A complaint highlighting how Patton displayed a campaign hat in her office was dismissed.
The special counsel concluded that Patton and HUD’s ethics counsel did not realize the Trump campaign was selling the “USA” hat until after the complaint was filed. She immediately removed the hat, according to the special counsel.
Patton is now the 13th Trump official to be admonished for disregarding the Hatch Act. That baker’s dozen includes special counsel Kellyanne Conway, whom OSC recommended be fired due to her repeated offenses.
“The Trump administration is an ethical quagmire, full of officials who act as if their job is to advance the president’s personal and political interests at taxpayer expense,” Bookbinder said. “Change needs to happen for the good of our democracy.”
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