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Federal Workers Say ‘They’ve Been Gagged From Speaking Out’ On Trump’s Impeachment - A Federal Union Has Asked For An Injunction Against Legal Guidance That ‘Discouraged’ Impeachment Talk

Published Wednesday, January 29, 2020
by Dave Jamieson/The Huffington Post
Federal Workers Say ‘They’ve Been Gagged From Speaking Out’ On Trump’s Impeachment - A Federal Union Has Asked For An Injunction Against Legal Guidance That ‘Discouraged’ Impeachment Talk

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - For more than a year, a Federal Ethics Agency has instructed Federal Employees to steer clear of taking a stand at work for or against the impeachment of Republican President Donald Trump, saying that doing so could run afoul of the Hatch Act that bars them from participating in certain political activities

With Trump now impeached and the subject of a Senate trial, a Union representing Federal Employees says that the controversial legal guidance from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) tramples on Workers’ First Amendment rights.

As part of a lawsuit that began last year, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) just filed an emergency motion in Federal Court asking a judge to block the guidance with an injunction. 

The AFGE argues that the OSC, an independent agency now headed by a Trump appointee, has misread the Hatch Act in a way that’s created a “chilling effect” among Federal Employees. 

Impeachment is “all that’s in the news,” Ward Morrow, AFGE’s Assistant General Counsel, told HuffPost. “If you’re going to enforce (the OSC) advisory in the conditions we have now, they’ll be investigating Employees for the next one hundred years.  It’s all anybody is talking about, especially in Washington.”

AFGE has been waging its legal fight with an assist from American Oversight, a Non-Profit Watchdog Group founded by former Obama Staffers that’s been hounding the Trump Administration over conflicts of interest

Generally speaking, the Hatch Act, which dates to 1939, forbids most Federal Workers from engaging in electoral politics while on the clock or in their official capacity.

While Employees can make political donations or sign up new voters on their own time, they can’t urge their underlings to donate to someone’s re-election bid or pass out a candidate’s literature during the morning meeting

The restrictions tend to boil down to advancing a candidate or party and that’s where AFGE said the OSC misses the mark.

The guidance, first reported by The Washington Post in 2018, argues impeachment amounts to electoral politics because it can result in a President being barred from holding Federal Office - i.e., that impeachment amounts to a scuttled re-election bid. 

But impeachment is a legislative process playing out in Congress, with the House sending charges - in this case, that Trump abused his office and obstructed a Congressional inquiry - to the Senate for a trial.

Morrow said that, for the purposes of the Hatch Act, supporting or opposing impeachment is no different from supporting or opposing a spending bill being debated on the Senate floor.

He added that someone’s views about witnesses being called in the Senate impeachment trial - a key issue the chamber has yet to decide - may have nothing to do with partisan politics.

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