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Former Trump HUD official fined and barred from federal work over Hatch Act violation

A former Housing and Urban Development official and Trump family associate has been fined and barred from federal work for violating the Hatch Act‘s prohibition of use of official authority after she blurred the lines between official business and politics by producing a video for the 2020 Republican convention.

The US Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday that Lynne Patton had “improperly harnessed the authority of her federal position to assist the Trump campaign in violation of the Hatch Act” when she was HUD regional administrator and that she had admitted to violating the act when she produced a video about housing conditions for the Republican National Convention. In the settlement agreement, Patton will receive a $1,000 civil fine and is prevented from working as a federal employee for 48 months.

“As a HUD employee, Patton received permission in early 2019 to temporarily live in and observe living conditions in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA),” OSC said in a statement. “During her approximately one-month stay, Patton met residents and later leveraged one of these relationships to recruit participants to film a video that would air at the RNC. Patton wanted NYCHA residents to appear in the video to explain how their standard of living had improved under the Trump administration.”

Patton told CNN she doesn’t regret making the video and denied that residents were “tricked.”

“And yes, I received advance permission and written legal guidance from the HUD Office of the General Counsel & Ethics and followed their instructions to a ‘T,’ which can be confirmed by over 4 hours of independent audio and video,” she said in an email Tuesday. “Unfortunately, after consulting multiple Hatch Act lawyers post-employment, receiving incorrect and/or incomplete legal advice, even in good faith, from your own agency does not an affirmative defense make.”

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.

Other Trump officials. including then-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, have been found to have violated the Hatch Act but no disciplinary action was taken.

This is not the first time Patton has been reprimanded by OSC over a Hatch Act violation.

In September 2019, Patton was issued a warning letter by OSC for violating the Hatch Act’s prohibition of certain political activities by federal employees after an investigation found that she had “liked” four partisan political tweets from her official Twitter account following a complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The investigation also found that she displayed a red “USA” campaign hat in her HUD office, but neither Patton nor HUD ethics counsel had realized then President-Donald 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, the letter said.

She was advised 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, according to the letter.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement Tuesday that Patton “deserves accountability and deserves to be barred from federal employment.”

“Even in an administration marked by a callous disregard for ethics laws, Lynne Patton stood out,” Bookbinder said. “What made her behavior particularly egregious was that she not only used her position for political purposes, she misled and exploited public housing residents for political gain, showing little regard for the people she was supposed to be helping and the ethics rules she was supposed to be following.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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