Senate Dems say FCC commissioner violated law by backing Trump

A group of senators are requesting an investigation into whether FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly violated federal l...

Posted: Mar. 6, 2018 1:53 PM
Updated: Mar. 6, 2018 2:06 PM

A group of senators are requesting an investigation into whether FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly violated federal law by endorsing President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers, CNN has learned.

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A letter from seven Senate Democrats describes O'Rielly -- a Republican -- answering a question about "regulatory ping-pong" at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC.

"I think what we can do is make sure as conservatives that we elect good people to both the House, Senate and make sure that President Trump gets reelected," O'Rielly said, according to the letter, which was obtained by CNN.

That, the senators allege, violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits many federal employees from engaging in politics while on the job, in uniform, or using government resources.

"At the time he answered this question, Mr. O'Rielly was appearing in his official capacity and promoting a political candidate who has already filed election paperwork," the senators wrote to the Office of Special Counsel and the FCC inspector general. (The Office of Special Counsel is responsible for investigating potential Hatch Act violations, and is not associated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)

"Mr. O'Rielly's statement," they continued, "appears to directly meet the definition of advocacy and, if so, is clearly in violation of guidance issued by OSC and by consequence the Hatch Act. This warrants further review."

Spokespeople for the FCC, Office of Special Counsel and FCC inspector general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter was signed by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tina Smith of Minnesota.

This is not the first request for OSC to review O'Rielly's CPAC comments. The Project On Government Oversight, an ethics watchdog, said last week it was requesting an investigation.

Earlier on Tuesday, OSC concluded a close adviser to Trump violated the Hatch Act. Kellyanne Conway, the office concluded, crossed the line in two interviews last year when she "impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election."

On Monday, OSC provided new guidelines to federal employees warning them from expressing a view on Trump's re-election bid.

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