WASHINGTON (CN) — Independent federal prosecutors determined Monday that White House adviser Peter Navarro violated the Hatch Act with his press statements and online posts during the 2020 campaign season haranguing President-elect Joe Biden.
The Hatch Act bars federal employees from using their positions to interfere with or affect an election, and a new report by Special Counsel Henry Kerner says Navarro’s running commentary against Biden from May to October of this year did precisely that.
“Dr. Navarro repeatedly attacked presidential candidate Joe Biden and/or vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris,” the report states. “Dr. Navarro often attacked Mr. Biden about his relationship with China and at times accused him of being ‘compromised’ and susceptible to being ‘bought’ by China, even nicknaming him ‘Beijing Biden.’”
An economist tapped in 2016 to stand up the White House National Trade Council, Navarro has long espoused protectionist trade views in books like “The Coming China Wars” and “Death by China.”
Monday’s report says Navarro engaged in textbook partisan political activity prohibited under the law with his statements online and in the press that a Biden presidency would be “devastating” to the U.S. economy
In addition to illegally commenting on Biden within his capacity as assistant to the president and director of the Office on Trade and Manufacturing Policy, according to the report, Navarro made prohibited attacks on Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris.
The special counsel calls Navarro’s violations of the Hatch Act “knowing and willful.”
“He committed these violations after having received training on the Hatch Act and for most of the violations, while knowing that OSC was investigating him in the same prohibited political activity,” the report states.
Members of the Trump White House are no stranger to Hatch Act violations. Over a year ago, the Office of the Special Counsel took the rare step of calling for the firing of then-White House counselor Kellyanne for her repeated offenses of the act, including her routine stumping for Trump’s reelection during most major news appearances.
The recommendation fell on deaf ears as President Trump defended Conway, saying she was exercising her right to free speech when she mocked Biden during the campaign as “Creepy Uncle Joe” or retweeted Trump campaign advertisements that contrasted the present economy to the one Trump inherited.
The OSC counted 35 individual violations of Hatch by Conway.
In October, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, issued a report cataloging all confirmed and alleged Hatch Act violations carried out by officials during the Trump presidency. The senator counted over 54 violations by 14 officials going back to 2017.
In addition to Conway and Navarro, offenders include Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, First Lady Melania Trump’s former chief of staff Stephanie Grisham, former White House Deputy Press Secretary and Deputy Assistant to the President Raj Shah, former White House communications director Jessica Ditto, former director of Oval Office Operations and personal secretary Madeline Westerhout, former White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah and former deputy communications director at the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Wood.
As with Conway, the White House has defended Navarro’s conduct, according to Monday’s report.
“The White House Counsel’s Office … argued that Dr. Navarro’s statements about Joe Biden and his ‘kowtowing to the Chinese’ were the kind of factual, policy-based statements acceptable for him to make in his official capacity,” Kerner wrote.
But the OSC said federal law makes no such exception.
The OSC report rattles off several examples of Navarro’s behavior that crossed the Hatch Act line and specifically highlights his comments in August that Biden’s economic plan would “destroy U.S. energy, logging and fishing” and that Democrats were crossing a “thin blue line between peaceful protests and anarchy/looting.” That same month Navarro opined on Twitter: “When will Dems hold China accountable for the pandemic and the loss of factories and jobs in America?”
The OSC flagged Navarro’s tweets in September where he used the “Beijing Biden” nickname for the Democratic candidate. Two months out from Election Day, the White House adviser linked to news articles on Twitter to accuse Biden of being a plagiarist in one missive and a “pawn” in China President Xi Jinping’s “Great Global Game” in another.
“Biden’s agenda MADE IN CHINA. Trump agenda Made in America,” Navarro also tweeted in September.
Navarro closed out the month by linking to a story featured by the conservative-leaning Federalist Society on Spanish-speaking voters reacting to Trump’s performance during the first presidential debate.
It will be left to President Trump to decide whether Navarro will be disciplined, per the U.S. Constitution.
The White House declined to comment Monday.
“In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election Navarro has been one of the worst,” Noah Bookbinder, director of the independent watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said in a statement Monday. “Navarro’s blatant violations of the Hatch Act are rivaled only by Kellyanne Conway.”
CREW has filed multiple Hatch complaints against Navarro and other officials. Their pursuit of accountability under Hatch for Conway was instrumental to OSC’s findings last year.
Navarro, who is professor emeritus at University of California, Irvine, did not immediately return request for comment.