One of President Trump’s Cabinet members just possibly violated a federal law by wearing a pair of "Make America Great Again" socks.
Today, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted a photo of himself wearing “Make America Great Again!” socks. The tweet has since been deleted, and Zinke weirdly reposted a censored version, apologizing for “not realizing it had what could be viewed as a political slogan.”
Indeed, the Hatch Act prohibits most executive branch employees from engaging in political campaigning. (The president, vice-president, and some other officials are exempted, however.) It’s the same law that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway ignored when she advocated for and against political candidates on TV in 2017.
“The Office of Special Counsel issued explicit guidelines that prohibits federal employees from wearing items saying ‘Make America Great Again’ while on duty,” Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government ethics watchdog group, said in an email.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) enforces the Hatch Act, and updated its guidance for federal employees after Trump announced his intent to run for reelection in 2020. The updated rules prohibit workers for wearing or broadcasting Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again” or “MAGA.”
An OSC spokesperson declined to comment on Zinke’s tweet, but did send a link to the agency’s social media guidance for federal employees.
“As such, further restricted employees may not engage in political activity on behalf of or in concert with a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group...distributing material created by a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group,” the guidance states.
The Interior Department has not responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.
“Not only did Zinke do this, he tweeted it out—from his official government account—to make sure America knew,” Libowitz said.
“Claiming now that he didn’t realize it could be viewed as a political slogan is hard to believe, considering the OSC memo that says it is and wearing MAGA gear is prohibited under the Hatch Act,” he added. “Unless he’s saying as head of a major federal agency, he ignores ethics guidance.”
The agency’s rules are clear: Employees such as Zinke cannot engage in campaigning from non-personal Twitter or Facebook accounts. (Even retweeting a campaign slogan could count as a violation of the Hatch Act.) Does a pair of novelty socks meet this description? Honestly, I don’t know.
Maybe Zinke’s fashion sense is the real crime here.