White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chose to use her official Press Secretary Twitter account to complain about her treatment at a restaurant, condemning that restaurant and its owner in the process. The problem with that, besides it being petty, is that using her office, and its Twitter account, for personal gain and using it either for or against any business is a violation of ethics laws. The former White House ethics chief, former Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub, has now called out Sanders for her violation of very specific ethics laws, saying “Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a).”

Sanders was asked to leave a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant on Friday night by the restaurant’s owner because of Sanders’s support of two Trump policies that multiple employees and the owner at the restaurant found offensive: banning transgender recruits from the military and immigration policies including zero tolerance and family separation. Now, trying to send a message to an administration that keeps trying to exclude people by excluding people from that administration might not be the best way to get the message across, but Sanders escalated the situation when she decided to comment about incident from her official account, which also was not smart.

Sanders tweeted, from her official @PressSec account, “Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.” Of course writing “her actions say far more about her than about me” is petty and actually says quite a lot about Sande herself. If she believes in treating people respectfully, as she claims, then maybe no comment was needed at all, and certainly no comment from her official @PressSec Twitter account.

This brings us to the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub. Shaub held that post from 2013, until July of 2017, when he resigned in response to the Trump administration’s ethical quagmire. At the time of his resignation, Shaub said of the Trump administration, according to NPR, “I can only describe my experience with the way they’ve run their ethics program in the White House right now as one of disappointment. That’s just no way to run an ethics program…Even when we’re not talking strictly about violations, we’re talking about abandoning the norms and ethical traditions of the executive branch that have made our ethics program the gold standard in the world until now.” Since his resignation, Shaub has been a frequent and outspoken critic of the Trump administration, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders. According to The Hill:

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics said on Saturday that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s decision to tweet about being kicked out of a Virginia restaurant violated ethics laws…Walter Schaub, the federal government’s former top ethics watchdog, tweeted that Sanders’s response, which was made from her official White House account, was a clear violation of federal law. “Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a),” Shaub tweeted Saturday, referencing the law that states government employees cannot use public office for private gain. “It’s the same as if [a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out,” he added…The tweet also violated the endorsements ban, Shaub argued, since Sanders’s tweet was “an obvious corollary for discouraging patronage.”

Across three tweets, Shaub wrote, “Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a). It’s the same as if an ATF agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out…Sanders used her official govt account to condemn a private business for personal reasons. Seeks to coerce business by using her office to get public to pressure it. Violates endorsements ban too, which has an obvious corollary for discouraging patronage. Misuse reg covers both…Opening sentences of 5 CFR 2635.702 cover both; 702(a) gives example of coercion; 702(c) gives example of endorsement. Also 2635.101(b)(8) bars preferential treatment, with obvious corollary for singling out. She can lob attacks on her own time but not using her official position.”

That last sentence, “She can lob attacks on her own time but not using her official position”, is the clincher. Indeed even President Trump, who pays heed to few boundaries, uses his personal Twitter account, rather than his official @POTUS account, to do most of his bullying, lying and self-aggrandizing (although there is some cross over, especially from that last category). Sanders’s tweet has indeed had an effect on that business, with Yelp reviews appearing based on Sanders being asked to leave (one star from those who oppose it and/or support Trump and five stars from those who like it and/or oppose Trump). If Sanders really was interested in treating people respectfully, as she claims, then the better part of valor would have been not to post anything on social media about it. Sanders is also required to follow the law, and, as Shaub explains, Sanders has violated two aspects of an ethics law, with no consideration of her own actions. That seems to be one of the key aspects of the Trump administration – complaining about other people’s actions without holding their own behavior up to any sort of standard, whether ethical or legal.

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