Federal employees should bite their tongues when it comes to impeaching Donald Trump.
In a memo (pdf) circulated on Nov. 27, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) provided specific guidelines on how the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. The memo argues that calling for (or against) Donald Trump’s impeachment counts as prohibited political activity, since it pertains to a 2020 presidential election candidate.
Advocating for a candidate to be impeached, and thus disqualified from holding office, is clearly directed at the failure of that candidate’s campaign for federal office. Similarly, advocating against a candidate’s impeachment is activity directed at maintaining a candidate’s eligibility for federal office and therefore also considered political activity.
The document also warns that expressing disagreement with government policies using the words “resist” or “resistance” would also be partisan.
But nonpartisan watchdog American Oversight says the new rules go too far in limiting free speech. The organization sent a letter to the OSC warning that the memo “opens a dangerous door for the Trump administration to crack down on dissent,” and argues that there is a difference between campaigning against a candidate, and discussing the illegal conduct of a sitting president (if Russia investigation, for example, found that Trump had broken US law).
Limiting free speech about the president’s conduct could also put whistleblowers at risk of retaliation, points out AO. It is the OSC’s duty to protect them.
The administration’s war with words isn’t new: Earlier this year, reports said the State Department was considering banning the use of the terms “sexual health,” and references to “transgender” have been removed from federal sites.