A top adviser to President Donald Trump has urged the defeat of a Michigan congressman and member of a conservative group of U.S. House lawmakers who derailed the White House on legislation to repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law.
Government ethics lawyers said the tweet by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. violated federal law that limits political activity by government employees. The White House denied Scavino had run afoul of the law.
Two days after Trump himself tweeted a threat to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group of fellow Republicans, Scavino followed up Saturday by singling out Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., for criticism and urging Trump supporters to defeat the congressman in next year's primary election.
Scavino tweeted that Trump "is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan" and Amash "is a big liability," adding: "#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary."
Amash, who began serving his fourth House term in January, responded by retweeting Scavino and adding: "Trump admin & Establishment have merged into #Trumpstablishment. Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers."
Another Freedom Caucus member criticized by Trump, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said the GOP health care legislation was not only poorly done, but rushed, broadly unpopular and opposed by moderates as well as conservatives. "Tweets and statements and blame don't change facts," he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Let's start over," he said. "Even the president said we can get a better bill after it was postponed a week ago."
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Ethics lawyers who worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents said Scavino violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that limits political activity by government employees. They said it didn't matter that Scavino tweeted from an account marked as "personal" and not from his official government Twitter account.
Daniel Jacobson, a White House lawyer under President Barack Obama, tweeted that White House staff "can't use an official or de facto govt Twitter acct (which this is) to call for defeat of a candidate. De facto means that if you tweet only about WH work from your account, it's an official account. Labeling 'personal' doesn't change that."
Richard Painter, who at one time was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, called attention to the description beneath the photo on the account Scavino has designated as personal. It shows Scavino in the Oval Office, and he is identified as director of social media and a senior adviser to Trump.
"This is use of official position to influence an election," Painter tweeted. "Look at the photo and description underneath. Bush WH would have fired him."
The White House said in a statement that the tweet did not violate federal law "as it clearly comes from his personal account and not his official White House account." It said Scavino created an official account after he started working at the White House "to ensure compliance with the Hatch Act and he has taken the necessary steps to ensure there is a clear distinction between both Twitter accounts."
House Freedom Caucus members helped derail a vote last month on legislation long sought by Republicans to repeal and replace the health care law known as Obamacare. Its members argued that the bill didn't go far enough to undo the law. Some moderate Republicans also objected to the legislation, but for different reasons.
About a week after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pulled the bill from the House floor, Trump directed his Twitter fire on fellow Republicans.
"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Trump said Thursday. In follow-up tweets, the president singled out three Freedom Caucus members — Jordan, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho and the caucus chairman, Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Trump said if they "would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform."