- Administration official discussed Clinton, Trump in interview
- Castro said to be on Clinton’s list of potential running mates
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, said to be a contender for Hillary Clinton’s running mate, was found by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to have violated a law prohibiting federal employees from engaging in political activity while working in their official capacity.
Castro committed the violation of what’s known as the Hatch Act during a Yahoo News interview with Katie Couric, during which he praised Clinton’s experience and said he believed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was unfit for office, the OSC said on Monday.
While Castro preceded his comments with the disclaimer that “taking off my HUD hat for a second and just speaking individually,” the interview was taped at his department’s television studio and bracketed by a discussion of official departmental policies.
“Despite his efforts to clarify that he was speaking only for himself and not as a HUD official when answering political questions, Secretary Castro’s statements impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official government agency business,” the independent federal agency said in its report on the incident.
Castro said in a letter to the OSC that he “acknowledged” he had made an “inadvertent” error in the incident.
The agency didn’t disclose who made the initial complaint about Castro’s interview that prompted the investigation. The OSC report will be forwarded to President Barack Obama.
White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said Castro had taken full responsibility “for ensuring that such errors do not occur again.”
“The secretary takes the Hatch Act very seriously and he has committed to taking steps to ensure understanding and compliance with the Hatch Act throughout the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Friedman said in an e-mailed statement.
Obama is not expected to take additional action since Castro has acknowledged the error.
Republicans are likely to seize on the incident in the days before Clinton is expected to announce her vice presidential selection. Castro, a 41-year-old Latino who previously served as mayor of San Antonio, met with Clinton last week at her home in Washington as the presumptive Democratic nominee is wrapping up her search for a running mate before the party’s convention next week. He previously has campaigned with the former secretary of state.
Castro is the second Cabinet secretary to be found in violation of the Hatch Act during the Obama administration. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius ran afoul of the rule in 2012 when she told attendees at a Human Rights Campaign gala in North Carolina that re-electing Obama was “hugely important.”
Although House Republicans urged Sebelius to resign, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said at the time that the administration was satisfied that she had rectified the situation by repaying the trip costs.
The White House has forbidden Cabinet members from addressing the party convention to avoid appearances that the administration is mixing politics with official duties in a closely fought campaign to chose Obama’s successor.
The White House decided to make the move “to send a signal about the primacy of the Obama administration’s responsibility to manage the government and serve the American people,” Friedman said.