Psaki Says Sorry for Possible Breach: 'Words Certainly Matter'

Ethics watchdog says press secretary shouldn't have promoted Va. gubernatorial contender McAuliffe
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2021 8:30 AM CDT
Ethics Watchdog Calls for Probe Into Psaki's Candidate Nod
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Sept. 24, 2021.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Biden's camp is going all in for support of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, but one member of that team is now getting dinged for not lying low. Reuters reports that the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called for an Office of Special Counsel ethics investigation into White House press secretary Jen Psaki, claiming she may have breached the Hatch Act with her words on McAuliffe from the White House podium. The 1939 act "limits certain political activities of federal employees," including campaigning, though the president and vice president don't fall under that umbrella.

Psaki's alleged infraction took place during a presser on Thursday, when she noted, "We're going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he's representing." McAuliffe, who was Virginia's governor from 2014 to 2018, is running against GOPer Glenn Youngkin, who has earned the support of former President Donald Trump. "OSC should commence an immediate investigation ... and take any appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Psaki," the complaint filed by CREW read.

CNN's Jake Tapper broached the subject with Psaki on Friday, and she conceded she'd erred. "I take ethics seriously," she noted. "So does the president, of course." Psaki also said it was a semantics issue that she'd be more cognizant of in the future. "As I understand it, if I had said 'he' instead of 'we,' that would not have been an issue at all," she said. "I'll be more careful with my words next time. Words certainly matter." Psaki isn't the only White House official, or even press secretary, to be hit with a CREW complaint in recent years.

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The group claimed violations by multiple officials in the Trump administration, including against ex-press secretaries Sean Spicer, Sarah Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany, as well as against Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway. Reuters notes that Conway's violations were so egregious that the OSC recommended she be removed from federal service. CREW chief Noah Bookbinder acknowledged the contrast to Psaki's alleged breach in a release, noting her actions were nothing compared to "the outrageous offenses of the Trump administration." In a tweet, CREW also lauded Psaki and the Biden administration for "reaffirming their commitment to ethics and to the law, something all too rare in recent years." (More Jen Psaki stories.)

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