White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre violated the Hatch Act, a law that bars federal employees from promoting partisan politics while in their official capacity, for how she spoke about Republicans during official White House press briefings, a government watchdog agency found. But the agency also did not recommend any reprimand.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that enforces the act, cited Jean-Pierre’s use of the phrase “mega MAGA Republicans” during news briefings leading up to the 2022 midterms as being in violation of the 1939 law, according to the letter dated June 7.

“Because Ms. Jean‐Pierre made the statements while acting in her official capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election,” Ana Galindo‐Marrone, who leads the agency’s Hatch Act Unit, wrote in the letter.

The office, however, did not recommend any reprimand, saying that Jean-Pierre may not have been told such phrasing was a violation.

“The White House Counsel’s Office did not at the time believe that Ms. Jean‐Pierre’s remarks were prohibited by the Hatch Act, and it is unclear whether OSC’s contrary analysis regarding the use of ‘MAGA Republicans’ was ever conveyed to Ms. Jean‐Pierre,” the letter stated.

Jean-Pierre has frequently cited the Hatch Act during press briefings, often using it as a reason she cannot answer reporters’ questions. White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Monday that the administration is reviewing the OSC’s opinion.

“As has been made clear throughout the administration, we take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act,” Bates said.

In the leadup to the midterm elections, President Biden began using the term “MAGA Republicans” last summer to refer to Republicans who are tied to former president Donald Trump, who announced last fall his campaign to again seek the GOP nomination for the presidency. Presidents are not subject to the Hatch Act, even though their political appointees are.

NBC News first reported the findings.

Protect the Public Trust, a conservative watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel in November that led to the investigation. In its letter to the organization, Galindo-Marrone said it decided to close the investigation into Jean-Pierre without further action.

“We have advised Ms. Jean‐Pierre that should she again engage in prohibited political activity, OSC would consider it a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in OSC pursuing disciplinary action,” the agency wrote.

Despite the recommendation, Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, slammed the use of “polarizing messages and demeaning slogans” against political opponents.

“We are glad that there remains some interest in investigating misconduct within the highest levels of government. Officials are supposed to exercise their authority for the benefit of all Americans, not act as an arm of a political party,” Chamberlain said in a statement.

The phrase “Make America Great Again” and the shortened “MAGA” that former president Donald Trump popularized are regularly used by Republicans and Democrats alike. They were frequently referenced in materials produced by the Trump administration, including on the White House website at the time.

A 2021 federal investigation found that at least 13 senior Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act intentionally by mixing governing with campaigning before the 2020 election.

A scathing 60-page report from the Office of the Special Counsel said that a “willful disregard for the law” was “especially pernicious” during the Trump administration, saying many officials abused their government roles days before the November election. Trump — whose job it was to discipline his political appointees — allowed them to illegally promote his reelection on the job despite warnings to some from ethics officials, the report said.

“This failure to impose discipline created the conditions for what appeared to be a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch,” investigators wrote in the report.

A representative for the Office of Special Counsel declined to comment Monday, adding that it is the office’s practice not to publicly release Hatch Act warning letters.

Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

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