Watchdog Says President Trump Can Give Convention Speech At White House

Thursday, August 13th 2020, 9:48 am
By: CBS News

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel confirmed federal law does not preclude President Trump from delivering a speech at the White House to accept the GOP's presidential nomination during this month's Republican National Convention.

The guidance from the agency came in an advisory opinion issued in response to a request from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, concerning the Hatch Act, a federal law that governs the political activity of executive branch employees. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act and other laws concerning federal employees.

"The president and the vice president are not covered by any provisions of the Hatch Act," Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the office's Hatch Act Unit, told Maloney in a letter Wednesday. "Accordingly, the Hatch Act does not prohibit President Trump from delivering his RNC acceptance speech on White House grounds."

After the coronavirus pandemic forced Mr. Trump to abandon plans for convention festivities, including his acceptance speech, in Jacksonville, Florida, he said last week he narrowed down possible sites for the address to the White House and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The prospect of the speech taking place at the White House, however, raised questions as to whether such an event would run afoul of federal law.

While Hamrick said Mr. Trump would be cleared to deliver his address accepting the Republican nomination from the White House, she noted the Hatch Act does cover White House employees, so there could be implications for Mr. Trump's aides depending on their level of involvement with the speech and their role with the administration.

White House employees, for example, could not assist with the convention event while on duty or in a federal room or building, according to the advisory opinion. They also would be barred from attending the event while on duty.

The advisory from the Office of Special Counsel was cheered by Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

"The law plainly states that the president is not bound by the Hatch Act but Democrats continue to deflect, deter and undermine every lawful action President Trump takes rather than focus on the work Americans expect of their elected representatives," he said in a statement. 

While Mr. Trump has advocated for delivering his speech at the White House, citing cost and logistics, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said in an interview that aired Sunday he wants the president to do so "miles and miles away" from the White House.

Set to kick off August 24, the Republican National Convention has undergone numerous changes as the coronavirus crisis forced GOP officials to alter their plans. Initially set to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, Republicans then moved to split the event between there and Jacksonville.

But once cases began to spike in Florida, the president canceled the Jacksonville part of the event. Now, official convention business will be held in Charlotte with a limited number of attendees, and the formal nomination of Mr. Trump will be livestreamed.