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Onlookers at the White House before President Trump spoke on the fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Donald Trump and senior members of his administration turned the federal government into a sprawling, taxpayer-funded political machine in violation of U.S. law, a top watchdog says.

Why it matters: The Trump administration's flagrant disregard for checks on government-backed politicking dealt significant damage to federal ethics safeguards, the Office of Special Counsel warned in a report released Tuesday.

  • OSC's inability to effectively prosecute those violations — and its reliance on the very officials who allegedly permitted those violations — expose glaring weaknesses in federal ethics safeguards, experts say.
  • The office says significant reforms are needed to ensure the Trump administration's conduct is "an anomaly, not a precedent."

The big picture: OSC's report details "a taxpayer-funded campaign apparatus within the upper echelons of the executive branch."

  • At least 13 Trump officials, including multiple Cabinet-level officers, violated the Hatch Act, which bars the use of taxpayer resources for partisan politicking, OSC wrote.
  • Most of the violations occurred during or surrounding the 2020 Republican National Convention, which was held in large part on White House grounds.
  • The report singles out officials including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf for particularly egregious offenses.
  • "The cumulative effect of these repeated and public violations was to undermine public confidence in the nonpartisan operation of government," OSC wrote.

Between the lines: OSC is the office charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, but it has no power to prosecute violations. Instead, it relies on the president to sanction officials under his purview when violations occur.

  • Trump had no interest in doing so, and in fact, actively encouraged his staff to violate federal law, OSC charged.
  • Violations by Pompeo and Wolf in particular "reflect the Trump administration’s willingness to manipulate government business for partisan political ends."

Trump himself was dismissive of the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by federal employees but does not bind the president or vice president. His top aides were likewise blasé about the law.

  • After OSC recommended the removal of former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway over Hatch Act violations, a reporter asked her about the office's findings. "Blah, blah, blah," she said. "Let me know when the jail sentence starts."
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows dismissed Hatch Act concerns because “nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about the law.

What's next: OSC is asking Congress to step up the office's prosecutorial authority.

  • It wants the ability to levy "substantial" fines against Hatch Act violators to dissuade future offenses.
  • Due to a lack of "good faith cooperation" from the Trump administration during its investigation, OSC also proposes new subpoena powers.

Go deeper

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas 10 more Trump officials

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot subpoenaed 10 former senior Trump administration officials on Tuesday.

Driving the news: The aides were some of the most senior officials in the final days of the Trump administration. They include former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, senior adviser to the president Stephen Miller, and former national security adviser to Vice President Pence, Keith Kellogg.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

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