On Monday, Oct. 19, the Office of Special Counsel confirmed it will open a case file to address the complaint American Oversight submitted regarding Secretary Pompeo’s reported efforts to release the emails of former Secretary Hillary Clinton ahead of the election.
In a one-sentence email to American Oversight, the chief of OSC’s Hatch Act unit wrote, “We received your Hatch Act complaint and will open a case file to address this matter.”
On Friday, American Oversight asked the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the State Department’s acting inspector general to immediately investigate whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s rush to release the emails of former Secretary Hillary Clinton before the upcoming November election violates the Hatch Act. The letter urges OSC and the inspector general to stop Pompeo from ordering any State Department employees to release information in an unlawful attempt to influence the outcome of the election.
The Hatch Act is a federal law that bars government employees from using their taxpayer-funded positions to influence the outcome of partisan elections.
Earlier this month, in response to public criticism from President Donald Trump, Pompeo announced that the State Department would work to release information from Clinton’s emails “before the election,” strongly suggesting that the intent of those efforts would be to affect that election.
The apparent speed of this effort is at odds with the State Department’s repeated assertions, made in multiple court filings in recent months, that it is currently largely unable to process public records for release in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Prioritizing the release of Clinton emails over other records less than three weeks before the election strongly suggests the action is being taken for partisan reasons and not for the “sake of transparency,” as Pompeo has claimed. Further, Pompeo previously expressed concern about the possibility of foreign adversaries accessing Clinton’s emails, a position at odds with his newfound insistence on their immediate release.
“Secretary Pompeo has made it clear he intends to use the powers of his office to influence the 2020 election,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “That is quintessentially illegal under the Hatch Act. He should be investigated and held accountable.
“In the meantime, it is critically important for every State Department employee dragged into Pompeo’s plans to know that the secretary is asking them to break the law, too,” Evers added. “It’s imperative that OSC and the IG intervene to protect career employees from being forced to choose between following orders and following the law.”
American Oversight has repeatedly pushed OSC to enforce the Hatch Act to curtail overtly partisan activities by top government officials and to protect civil servants from political retaliation. In 2019, the watchdog group sued OSC on behalf of the nation’s largest federal employee union in response to confusing and contradictory Hatch Act guidance that barred employees from using terms like “resistance” or taking a position on the impeachment of the president.
American Oversight’s letter to OSC and the State Department is available here.
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