Now that President Donald Trump’s top counselor has been officially accused of using her government job to promote political positions in violation of the Hatch Act, New York’s top federal housing official might want to pay attention.
On Thursday the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, recommended that Trump remove Kellyanne Conway from her job for routinely attacking Democrats in TV interviews and on social media in her official role.
Lynne Patton, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s New York-New Jersey office, is currently the subject of at least three ongoing Office of Special Counsel inquiries into whether she violated the Hatch Act with her use of social media.
And Patton has made it clear that it doesn’t matter to her one way or the other if she did.
In a May 22 Facebook post, she boasted about using both her personal and her official HUD Twitter accounts to retweet an overtly political tweet attacking “liberals” for mocking her boss, HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
“It may be a Hatch Act violation. It may not be. Either way, I honestly don’t care anymore,” Patton wrote on Facebook.
The Hatch Act explicitly prohibits any federal official from using his or her authority to influence elections. In the last year, the Office of Special Counsel has received three formal complaints alleging possible Hatch Act violations by Patton.
Promoting Republican Candidates
The most notable accusation came Feb. 28 from HUD’s inspector general a day after Patton attended the Congressional testimony of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. In the Capitol Hill hearing room, she sat behind Republican Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and, at times, nodded her head as he attacked Cohen’s claims that he’d heard Trump make racist comments in the past.
She was in Washington, D.C. that week to attend a HUD conference for all regional administrators, but skipped that day’s sessions to show up at the Cohen hearing. She insisted she was on personal time during the hearing and that she’d received permission to attend from the White House. She also promised to reimburse the government for part of her travel to the capital.
The next day, HUD’s inspector general opened an inquiry into Patton’s actions and referred the issue to the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that responds to Hatch Act violation allegations and investigates retaliation claims by federal whistleblowers.
Then, in May 2018, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Office of Special Counsel to investigate whether Patton violated the Hatch Act when she used her HUD account to “like” several tweets supporting specific Republican candidates.
And in April, CREW filed a second complaint, noting that Patton keeps a red Trump campaign “Make America Great Again” cap on a shelf in her HUD office in lower Manhattan. The hat was mentioned in a New York Magazine profile of Patton.
To date, the Office of Special Counsel has yet to act publicly on the requests.
A spokesperson for Patton, Olga Alvarez, did not respond to a request by THE CITY for comment on the Office of Special Counsel’s finding regarding Conway.
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