Treasury Department deletes Trump retweet touting 'Red Wave' that experts say was a violation of the Hatch Act

  • The Treasury Department retweeted a post from President Donald Trump on Wednesday touting Republican election chances this fall, sparking concerns among experts that the action may have violated federal ethics laws.
  • The Treasury soon removed the post. A representative for the department told CNBC that the retweet was done "in error."
  • "Treasury definitely crossed the line here," said Nick Schwellenbach, a former communications director at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act.
President Donald Trump (L) arrives with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin prior to signing financial services executive orders at the Treasury Department in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2017.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump (L) arrives with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin prior to signing financial services executive orders at the Treasury Department in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2017.

The Treasury Department retweeted a post from President Donald Trump on Wednesday touting Republican election chances this fall, sparking concerns among experts that the action may have violated federal ethics laws.

The Treasury soon removed the post. A representative for the department told CNBC that the retweet was done "in error."

Trump's celebratory tweet came on the heels of another round of primary elections in advance of this fall's pivotal midterms, which will determine majorities in Congress. "Great Republican election results last night," the president wrote in a tweet Wednesday morning. "So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!"

The Treasury Department's official account soon retweeted it. Government ethics experts immediately sounded the alarm, suggesting it may have been a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on the job.

"Treasury definitely crossed the line here," said Nick Schwellenbach, a former communications director at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act. (The office is not related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.)

The Hatch Act does not apply to the president or the vice president, but is "unambiguous" with regard to all other federal employees, said Schwellenbach, who is now the director of investigations at the nonpartisan good government group Project on Government Oversight.

A guidance document published by the Office of Special Counsel notes that federal officials may not at any time "retweet a message in support of or opposition to a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group."

"Whoever retweeted this and directed its retweet at Treasury violated the Hatch Act – they supported a political party using official federal resources. It's a violation," Schwellenbach said. "Full stop."

The Office of Special Counsel confirmed it was aware of the retweet. "However, we cannot comment on or confirm any open investigation at this time," said spokesman Zachary Kurz.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has landed in hot water with regard to the Hatch Act. Earlier this month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, another government watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel over alleged Hatch Act violations against 10 White House officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the White House's director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr., and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, have all been cited by the Office of Special Counsel for Hatch Act violations. None of the three appear to have been disciplined, according to CREW, although the White House did say Conway would receive extra ethics training.

— CNBC's Kayla Tausche contributed to this report.