After issuing a statement that she was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is facing accusations that she may have committed an ethics violation because her tweet came from her official @PressSec Twitter account.
Deadline reports that Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California also called for Sanders to be “referred to the Office of Government Ethics” on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Walter Shaub, former director of the OGE, criticized Sanders’ misuse of her government position on Twitter, comparing it to “the same as if an ATF agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out.”
Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a). It’s the same as if an ATF agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out. https://t.co/Fj6OfBAdew— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) June 23, 2018
“This is a sign of the total ethical rot of this administration, which comes from the model set at the top,” Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy and former associate White House counsel to Barack Obama tells Refinery29. According to rules set in place by the nonpartisan OGE, Sanders may have violated rule 5 CFR 2635.702 (c), which bars federal employees from using their government position to endorse any private “product, service, or enterprise.” Conversely, this same rule bans federal employees from using their official titles to denounce such private entities.
Bassin explains this rule’s applications succinctly. Trump administration employees cannot “use their [White House] titles or resources (like Twitter acct) for personal uses like making restaurant reservations or promoting businesses,” he wrote on Twitter. “So yes, this tweet violates federal ethics rules.”
When I was a WH lawyer we trained all staff they couldn’t use their WH titles or resources (like Twitter acct) for personal uses like making restaurant reservations or promoting businesses. So yes, this tweet violates federal ethics rules. I’m sure Don McGahn will remind her. https://t.co/2t2JCVb5B7— Ian Bassin (@ianbassin) June 24, 2018
Sanders could have posted her Red Hen statement to her personal Twitter account and would have been in compliance. When Sanders tweets from the @PressSec account, she is presumed to be speaking in her professional capacity as the press secretary, and her communications from this accounts are subject to government ethics rules.
We saw this same controversy arise when White House counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was accused of breaking this rule after she invited Americans to purchase Ivanka Trump-branded products on a 2017 episode of Fox & Friends. Conway was on the show performing her White House communications duties, making it inappropriate for her to shout out a private company, especially one owned by the president’s daughter from which the family had means to experience financial gain.
“Sanders’ violation is small potatoes,” says Bassin. “These types of violations from the president and his family are the true injury to the American people.”
Refinery29 has reached out to the White House press office and counsel's office for comment.