President Donald Trump may believe he has a good chance at trolling the media with his “fake news” awards. But if his staff at the White House takes part in any of the mockery, then they could be breaking the law.
According to former White House Special Counsel for Ethics Norm Eisen, the president is protected from being persecuted for misuse of position, but that does not apply to everyone else working for him.
On Sunday, Eisen used Twitter to warn that aiding the president with his “fake news” awards could have serious consequences for White House staff.
WARNING to White House staff: the president may be exempt from the rules at 5 CFR § 2635.701 et seq. on misuse of position BUT YOU ARE NOT. If you help @potus with the below, you risk violating §§ 702, 704 & 705 forbidding use of gov time & $$$ to harm some media & aid others. https://t.co/gHxzJcCEAW— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) January 7, 2018
Eisen, who worked for the President Barack Obama administration, was referring to the law that prohibits government employees from using their work time and money to cause any harm to the members of the media.
The president had promised to announce the “winners” of his “fake news awards” on Monday but has now said that his announcement is coming out on Jan. 17.
The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th, rather than this coming Monday. The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2018
After Eisen’s message went live, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, quoted Eisen’s tweet and added that if any White House employee is involved in Trump’s post or adds the details to the White House official site, they could be in trouble.
In the tweet addressed to Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Shaub also warned about using federal appropriations to back this “event.”
Hey @PressSec & @RajShah45, Norm is right. If you or *ANY* WH staffers work on this or post it on the WH website, it will be a violation of the Standards of Conduct. Beware of laws on using federal appropriations too, if there are any visuals, certificates, handouts, or trophies. https://t.co/3tlyrkNc9H— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 7, 2018
According to the White House director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr., he is not getting involved with the awards. Instead, he said last month, Trump’s 2020 campaign is behind this event.
Considering that even the Republican National Committee is working on the awards by promoting an online poll ever since the president first mentioned the awards idea in November, we wouldn’t be surprised if someone working for Trump in the White House was, in fact, directly involved with this project.
Still, it’s clear that if this is the case, Trump will be jeopardizing his administration, giving Congress and the media even more reasons to push for a formal probe into how the president and his aides spend their time.