Trump could face 3 years in prison for political coercion in office: watchdogs
Donald Trump at a campaign rally at the Giant Center in 2019. (Evan El-Amin /

The Department of Justice has additional cause to file charges against Donald Trump after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found 13 senior Trump officials violated the Hatch Act, two legal experts explained in a Slate column on Tuesday.

Prof. Claire Finkelstein of the University of Pennsylvania and Prof. Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota Law argued the report bolstered the case for a criminal investigation.

"Yet the OSC finding may be significant for another reason, namely its implications for another Hatch Act complaint we filed, this one a criminal complaint against Donald Trump brought last October with the Department of Justice. Although the president and vice president are immune to the ordinary Hatch Act prohibitions on use of public office for political purposes, there is a separate provision (18 U.S.C. § 610) under which it is a crime for any person to 'intimidate, threaten, command, or coerce … any employee of the Federal Government … to engage in any political activity.' Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison," the two noted.

They noted the complaint was filed with the Public Integrity Division of the Department of Justice.

READ: Here's why ex-Trump official Lynne Patton was fined for Hatch Act violations but Kellyanne Conway wasn't

"That means the decision of whether to investigate lies squarely in the hands of Attorney General Merrick Garland. The threshold legal determination Garland—or a special prosecutor appointed by Garland—must make is whether Trump coerced or ordered the political activity identified as Hatch Act violations by the OSC. If so, Trump could be liable to prosecution for political coercion under the aforementioned statute," they wrote.

The two noted Trump's habits while in office.

"Certainly, there are multiple accounts of Trump exerting precisely this kind of pressure on those in his inner circle. Numerous government officials, from the then head of the FBI, James Comey, to former White House lawyer Don McGahn, as well as state election officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and even Vice President Pence, have experienced the brunt of Trump's coercive tactics. The pattern of behavior throughout Trump's presidency suggests that the Hatch Act violations OSC has identified did not occur spontaneously," they wrote.

They wrote that DOJ has failed to act on their complaint for 13 months.

READ: Federal investigation finds senior Trump appointees illegally campaigned on the job

Read the full column.

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