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An illegal trend could be emerging after Trump let Kellyanne Conway off the hook for breaking federal law

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Federal workplaces are supposed to be free of politics, but a Trump administration appointee used a government forum Wednesday to express support for the president’s reelection.

At a conference on religious freedom hosted by the State Department, an official told the crowd of several hundred people that “hopefully he will be reelected,” referring to President Donald Trump.

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It’s illegal for federal employees to engage in political activities while they are on the job.

“It’s a violation of the Hatch Act for a federal official, to say in her official capacity, to hope that the president will be reelected,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on legal ethics at the Washington University in St. Louis.

It’s not the first time a Trump administration official has appeared to cross a line. In a harsh report, a government ethics office concluded that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was a “repeat offender” and recommended she be fired.

“Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” the ethics office wrote. “Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

Trump did not punish Conway.

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The latest questionable comment came from Samah Norquist, a special adviser on religious pluralism in the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Norquist is also the wife of conservative tax activist Grover Norquist.

In response to ProPublica’s questions, Tom Babington, a USAID spokesman, said in a written statement that agency personnel “immediately alerted” USAID’s chief legal officer about the comment. The legal office sent the issue to USAID’s ethics official for review and action.

“The Agency takes the Hatch Act very seriously and requires all employees to receive annual ethics training, which includes training on the Hatch Act,” Babington said. “No final decision has been made regarding a determination of a violation or potential appropriate administrative action.”

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The political references began when the panel moderator, Norquist, read a written question from an audience member. “What happens to U.S. involvement in Iraq if Trump loses the election?” the query said, sparking awkward laughter.

Max Primorac, the USAID special representative for minority assistance programs in Iraq, answered first, noting that Congress had passed in 2018 a bipartisan bill authorizing the State Department to give relief to the victims of Islamic State, particularly religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims, holding it up as proof that the whole country supports the policy.

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Primorac then added, “President Trump will win again, but I’m very confident that this is now an American project.”

Norquist echoed his remarks about religious minorities in Iraq, calling it “an American issue” rather than a partisan one. Then, she veered into politics. She added, “And we all hope whether it’s Trump, and hopefully he will be reelected, or not, that it continues to be a priority for our government.”

Here is the exchange.

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Norquist and Primorac did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan to give up royal titles — ‘the hardest #Megxit possible’

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Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will give up their royal titles and public funding as part of a settlement with the Queen to start a new life away from the British monarchy.

The historic announcement from Buckingham Palace on Saturday follows more than a week of intense private talks aimed at managing the fallout of the globetrotting couple's shock resignation from front-line royal duties.

It means Queen Elizabeth II's grandson Harry and his American TV actress wife Meghan will stop using the titles "royal highness" -- the same fate that befell his late mother Princess Diana after her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996.

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GOP senator tells home-state press that impeachment trial must be ‘viewed as fair’: report

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Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke to local reporters on Saturday about her role in the upcoming Donald Trump impeachment trial.

Murkowski explained she would likely vote with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on an initial vote on whether to allow witnesses. However, she left the door open to voting for witnesses after House impeachment managers make their opening case.

"I don't know what more we need until I have been given the base case," she said. "We will have that opportunity to say 'yes' or 'no' ... and if we say 'yes,' the floor is open."

Overall, Murkowski said it was important for the trial to been viewed as fair.

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White House press secretary urged to do her job: ‘We don’t pay you to be a Twitter troll’

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White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was blasted on Saturday over the confusion resulting from her refusal to hold daily press briefings.

CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy was alarmed that Grisham's assistant, Hogan Gidley, was forcing reporters to refer to his remarks as coming from a "sources close to the President's legal team."

Darcy noted that Trump had repeatedly questioned the veracity of unnamed sources, making it problematic for Gidley to demand to be quoted as such.

https://twitter.com/oliverdarcy/status/1218704788432572422

Grisham responded to the criticism and asked Darcy to "stop with the righteous indignation.

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