'Unprecedented': Trump melds office and campaign at RNC

Some observers say the use of federal property and employees in their official capacity at party event may be illegal.

Night two of the Republican National Convention saw US President Donald Trump fully embrace the blending of official White House work and government property with political campaigning in what some observers have called an “unprecedented” fashion.

Critics had already questioned Trump’s plans for himself and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, to deliver convention speeches from the White House, saying the backdrop raised ethical concerns. Melania went through with the speech as planned on Tuesday. Trump is slated to speak from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday.

On the second night of the four-day convention, exhibiting the reality show flair upon which Trump has built his reputation, the president further melded the Republican convention with two more orders of White House business – segments that showed Trump signing an official pardon and overseeing a naturalisation proceeding, both from the seat of the executive branch. 

Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political historian, said that no sitting president in recent history has combined the office with the campaign in the way Trump has during the convention. 

He called the administration’s actions “unprecedented” and possibly illegal. 

“The White House is called the ‘people’s house’, not the Republican house or the Democratic house,” Whalen told Al Jazeera. “It just flies in the face of decorum and tradition in this country.” 

“An underlying concern of the Hatch Act is that it is wrong for an incumbent to use the resources of the federal government, its employees or its financial resources, to help an election campaign,” he wrote. “It is not fair and it distorts the democratic process.” 

The appearance of Wolf in an event designed to be part of the convention also may represent a direct violation of the act, Kathleen Clark, a legal and government ethics professor at Washington University in St Louis School of Law, told the Washington Post, describing Trump and Wolf as “breathtaking in their contempt for the law”. 

The White House, for its part, has rebutted the criticism, with spokesman Judd Deere saying the president “is free to engage in political activity wherever he chooses”, and that “RNC Convention events will be planned and executed, at whatever the venue, by the Trump Campaign and RNC”, and that any federal employees involved will do so “in compliance with the Hatch Act”. 

.@SecPompeo’s participation in the #RNCConvention during the course of official @StateDept work is not only unacceptable, but appears that it may also be illegal.

I’ve launched a @HouseForeign investigation. https://t.co/tJ6nvTsJsw

Perhaps the most potentially legally and ethically murky portion of the night came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who critics say broke diplomatic norms, State Department guidelines and possibly the law, by appearing in a pre-recorded video on an official trip to Jerusalem.

The White House, RNC and State Department lawyers have said they conducted a legal analysis of the speech before it aired and determined there was no wrongdoing. The details of that analysis have not been made public. 

House Democrats on Tuesday announced they had launched an investigation into the speech. 

“It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties,” wrote Representative Joaquin Castro in a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.

“It appears that it may also be illegal,” he added.  

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