Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits federal employees from using their positions to promote partisan politics when he tweeted a photo of himself in MAGA socks last June, according to a December letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel which was leaked to the Washington Post and published on Thursday.
The letter said that the Special Counsel, which investigates people for Hatch Act violations, found that Zinke, in wearing these dumbass socks, had indeed broken the rules. Zinke, who resigned in December five days before the Special Counsel notified him of his violation, only received a warning. Specifically, he avoided punishment because he deleted the tweet and apologized. From the Post:
“Secretary Zinke engaged in political activity when he wore the above-referenced socks,” Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act Unit at the Office of the Special Counsel, wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to Campaign for Accountability, a left-leaning nonprofit watchdog organization. The letter, which was not previously released to the public, was provided to The Energy 202.
“Because Secretary Zinke wore these socks to an official event and also authorized their display on his official Twitter account, he violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official position to influence an election,” she wrote.
“[W]e do not believe that his violation was willful,” Galindo-Marrone told the Campaign for Accountability, which originally filed a complaint over the socks last year with the Office of the Special Counsel.
Zinke tweeted the photo of himself showing off his leg clad in an overzealous pro-Trump sock—which contained an image of President Donald Trump sewn into the article of clothing with the phrase “Make America Great Again!”—while attending a meeting of the Western Governors Association at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, according to Reuters’ report of Zinke’s socks at the time.
“Breaking in new socks on a hike with the governors today,” his account @SecretaryZinke captioned the photo.
After other Twitter users noted Zinke’s possible violation of the Hatch Act in promoting Trump’s campaign via tweeted sock, Zinke’s account deleted the photo, then reposted it with the MAGA slogan blacked out.
“Earlier I tweeted a pic of my new socks not realizing it had what could be viewed as a political slogan. I’ve deleted it and apologize for the mistake. I remain excited about all the incredible policy work POTUS is doing,” Zinke’s account captioned the new photo.
Ironically enough, Zinke had just been cleared of alleged wrongdoing under the Hatch Act that June, when he spoke to a hockey team owned by one of his campaign donors the previous year. And in March, the Special Counsel cleared Zinke of more alleged Hatch Act violations stemming from a trip to a coal dump site in Pennsylvania in March 2018.
As of last November, at least six White House officials had violated the Hatch Act by promoting political messages supporting Trump with their Twitter accounts. All of them got off with warnings too, though not all have been so apologetic.