With a Click of the Like Button, a Trump HUD Official Violated Federal Law

No, not Ben Carson.

Cheriss May/Zuma

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Update, September 19, 2019: Lynne Patton released a statement on the US Office of Special Counsel’s ruling saying, “I am grateful that the Office of Special Counsel remains an unbiased voice in Washington, DC that examines complaints based upon their merits instead of their number of retweets. To that end, OSC has determined that I did not violate the Hatch Act as it pertained to my attendance at the Michael Cohen hearing, as well as my tweet defending Secretary Carson. To the contrary, OSC decided not to pursue disciplinary at all for two minor infractions. I look forward to continuing to focus on the residents of New York and New Jersey, whose well-being I care about the most.”

Lynne Patton, the New York and New Jersey regional administrator at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is well-known for her active and often controversial social media presence, in which she often attacks liberals and expresses admiration for President Donald Trump. But her laissez-faire attitude about how government officials should conduct themselves online may be starting to catch up with her.

On Tuesday, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, announced that their complaints against Patton for possible violations of the Hatch Act have resulted in a reprimand from the US Office of Special Counsel. In their complaints, CREW accused Patton of using her Twitter account in ways that breached the Hatch Act’s prohibition of federal executive branch employees using their official authority to engage in certain political or partisan activities. A letter from the OSC confirmed that Patton had violated the law. “After years of serving Donald Trump’s interests, it appears that Lynne Patton is still doing so in her taxpayer-funded job,” CREW’s Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a press release.

CREW’s initial complaint alleged that Patton used her official Twitter account, @LynnePattonHUD (not to be confused with @LynnePatton, her personal account) to engage in political activity by “liking” a number of different partisan tweets. In December 2017, Donald Trump’s tweet endorsing Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida received a “like” from @LynnePattonHUD. The following February she “liked” a tweet from Republican National Committee chairperson Ronna McDaniel opposing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.).

In April 2018, she “liked” a tweet from the official Republican National Committee Twitter account supporting Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, and a week later she “liked” a tweet from Kanye West. The tweet in question read “my MAGA hat is signed” and included a picture of a signed campaign hat. West’s tweet has since been deleted. In total, CREW noted that Patton had done this four times. 

CREW also alleged that Patton violated the law by having a Trump campaign hat displayed in her office. In March, she was profiled by New York Magazine and in one of the photos, a red “USA” hat from the Trump campaign is visible behind the desk in her HUD office. The OSC letter said that Patton didn’t realize this and once the allegations against her were made public, she immediately removed it. Ultimately, the OSC decided not to take disciplinary action against Patton and instead reprimanded her, advising her that any more violations would result in “further action.”

These instances are not the only time Patton has been accused of violating the Hatch Act. Earlier this year, Patton shared a post from a Twitter account supporting HUD Secretary Ben Carson and mocking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

She retweeted it from both her personal and private accounts, saying she didn’t care if it was a violation of the Hatch Act. When called out by Twitter users of the possible transgression, Patton responded bluntly: “What part of I don’t give a shit don’t you understand?”

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Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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