Special counsel cites Sebelius for Hatch Act violation
September 12th, 2012
07:43 PM ET
9 years ago

Special counsel cites Sebelius for Hatch Act violation

(CNN) - The Office of the Special Counsel on Wednesday announced it was citing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for illegally making political comments at an official event, which is a violation of the federal Hatch Act.

The counsel found that she made the comments when delivering the keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign Gala in February.

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After the apparent Hatch Act violation emerged, her office reclassified the trip from official to political and she reimbursed the government for associated expenses.

The law prohibits most federal employees from "engaging in political activity while on duty," according to the special counsel, but some officials, such as cabinet secretaries, are permitted to make political statements in their personal capacity. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent government agency which can investigate and prosecute.

The counsel found that "the Secretary departed from her prepared outline" when she told attendees at the event, "it's hugely important to make sure that we reelect the President and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina."

In a seven-paragraph email to the special counsel's office, Sebelius concluded that "I regret making statements that converted my participation in the event from official to political. As I have also explained, keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day. Since this incident, I have met with the ethics attorneys at the Department to ensure that I have an accurate understanding of what types of statements are prohibited at an official event."

In her letter, Sebelius took issue with the special counsel pursuing the "minor" issue to this point, rather than considering it rectified when the trip was reclassified and expense repaid.

"I believe that you should have concluded that any violation was corrected when the event was reclassified as political," she wrote. "I believe that you should have concluded that the consequence of my going 'off script' at an official event was to change the nature of my appearance for cost reimbursement purposes only."

A HHS spokesman issued a statement which made no mention of the secretary's regret.

"The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released its findings today on extemporaneous remarks made by the Secretary on February 25, 2012 at a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) event," a statement from a HHS spokesman read. "As was previously announced and at the direction of the Secretary, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reclassified the event as political and the U.S. Treasury was reimbursed for all travel expenses."

The special counsel's report specifies that it now goes to Obama for "appropriate action."

- CNN's Kevin Bohn and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report

Also see:

- With attacks in Middle East, campaign turns to foreign policy

- Romney's political pretzel over Libya

- Democrats outraged with Romney foreign policy attacks

- Ryan ramps up foreign policy attack on Obama

Filed under: 2012 • HHS • Kathleen Sebelius
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Pete

    At least she was honest and changed her trips classification,reimbursing for transportation and other expenses..Would you think someone of the republican party would do that,heck no,not till they were brought on the senate floor and admonished publicly,but still not paying the expenses,its been done before,nothing new...

    September 12, 2012 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  2. Wade

    Feds: Sebelius Broke Law By Campaigning for Obama

    HHS Secretary violated law by making pro-Obama remarks during speech at Human Rights event, agency says. Will the feds arrest her? NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO just like they have not arrested the murderer Holder. Will CNN splash this across its front page to let every one comment instead of here will only a few comments will be posted. NO NO NO NO NO!

    September 12, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  3. Four and The Door

    As I have also explained, keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day.
    Not to mention how difficult it is to not act like a political hack when in fact that's what you are. I doubt she had crossed the line and acted like a Secretary of Health and Human Services when she was attending political events...

    September 12, 2012 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  4. OMG I'm so shocked

    political appointees promoting their master...cause their jobs are on the line

    September 12, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  5. enuff

    If the incident was handled immediately and was reimbursed immediately, why is it an issue except to point and say "look at them... Obama's cabinet member!!"

    September 12, 2012 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  6. Larry L

    It's reasonable to keep politicians from breaking the rules. None of them, on either side of the asile should be trusted to operate with impunity. When I see the Congress has a 17% approval rating I wonder who approves of their work?

    September 12, 2012 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  7. Russ

    OMG let's send her to whatever planet that is that Mormons believe they came from.......how dare she make a political statement at an official event. It's different when a Republican does it because because everything is a policy issue caused by Obama so they can talk about it. (as they bad mouth him for political gain)

    September 12, 2012 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  8. gt

    making kansas proud....not...

    September 12, 2012 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  9. Lizzie

    Reimbursed only AFTER she was told she violated the Hatch Act.

    September 12, 2012 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  10. Hent

    When democrats are in office, laws do not matter. Holder and sebelius should be in jail.

    September 12, 2012 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  11. Tubby the Tuba Texas

    What a waste of tax money republicans!

    September 12, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  12. Megan Grawe

    America is attacked and as usual, Obama is not in the white house doing his job! ...yes I agree, Obama makes Jimmy Carter look good!

    September 12, 2012 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  13. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    This isn't the first time and won't be the last time that any politician crosses the line and goes from shouldn't be talking about their cabinet to running on about politics and who should be elected.

    September 12, 2012 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  14. Emerson

    Case closed. Move on to more important things like continuing to icrease quality and decrease the cost of health care.

    September 12, 2012 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  15. myviewis

    This is her excuse??? "keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day"

    Why did she depart from her prepared outline??? "the Secretary departed from her prepared outline" because she knew very well she needed to encourage attendees to vote for Obama.

    She knew what she was doing. Shameless

    September 12, 2012 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  16. electroguy

    Ooooh she violated the Hatch act! She knew what she was doing... the Hatch act has like zero penalties..

    September 13, 2012 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  17. Liberal Nutjob

    She should resign

    September 13, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  18. CryBabies

    Another piece of work taking us down the road to disaster.

    September 13, 2012 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  19. bb

    The most corrupt administration US history is found to be a little more corrupt.. shocking. Of course, like most Dems, she threw money at it think it would just go away.

    September 13, 2012 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  20. kathy Bennett

    who do we talk to to get the treason act going for Romney?????

    September 13, 2012 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  21. Marie MD

    But she told the truth. Good for her.

    September 13, 2012 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  22. Big George in Big D

    Gee, someone corrupt in this administration?? Who'd of guessed that? Most corrupt administration EVER and you moro nic democRATS still want to vote for Nobama.

    September 13, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  23. UDidntBuildThat

    She was honest and returned the money? Oh come on!!!

    She returned the money after she was told she violated the law! Good grief! Typical Obama koolaid sheeple here.

    September 13, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  24. mecambridge

    Break a serious law like the Hatch Act and most federal employees are fired. Now the WH is saying in essence they don't need to follow the law for those they like but they can just ignore it and bend all the rules to try and dismiss the offense as the trip has been renamed so all is well. Once again there is a law for everyone else but not the WH. Something is wrong when you decide to put yourself above the laws you swore an oath to uphold.

    September 13, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  25. Sniffit

    "The most corrupt administration US history is found to be a little more corrupt.."

    Really? Saying something political in the heat of the moment during the excitement/duress of maknig a speech and then making sure that she was paying for the trip herself instead of charging it to the government books...that's corrupt? I'd say it's pretty much exactly the kind of honesty and above-board corrective behavior we would want from our politicians. These people are human just like the rest of us and are going to make mistakes. When those mistakes are relatively minor and can be corrected, like this one, no harm no foul, I'd say we have bigger fish to fry. And no, this isn't hypocrisy. I've consistently defended GOPers/Teatrolls from attacks over petty things because it cheapens the message and lessens the impact when the time comes to attack them on things that are actually important.

    September 13, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
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