Politics
Kathleen Sebelius (Photo: AP) Kathleen Sebelius (Photo: AP)  

Watchdog: Obama must punish Sebelius or Congress can impeach her

Photo of Matthew Boyle
Matthew Boyle
Investigative Reporter

In a Monday memorandum, government watchdog group Cause of Action argued that President Barack Obama must fire — or at least suspend for 30 days without pay — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her Hatch Act violation or his top-ranking health care official could face impeachment.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said last Wednesday that Sebelius violated the law when she publicly endorsed Obama’s re-election and North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Walter Dalton’s gubernatorial primary in a multi-way race during a taxpayer-funded public event on Feb. 25, 2012. The standard penalty for violating the Hatch Act is termination. But, the White House has suggested that Obama will offer Sebelius special treatment and let her keep her job.

According to OSC, any “employee who violates the Hatch Act shall be removed from their position, and funds appropriated for the position from which removed thereafter may not be used to pay the employee or individual.”

Federal government employees who are not politically appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate may have their punishment lessened from termination “if the Merit Systems Protection Board finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal, a penalty of not less than a 30-day suspension without pay shall be imposed by direction of the board.”

But, according to Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein, since Sebelius is a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee, she isn’t entitled to such a review.

“Thus the point is that by close of business on Sept. 12, 2012, the president has been informed of a Hatch Act violation and yet has decided not to fire Sebelius,” Epstein said. “The president has therefore decided to overlook the improper political activities of his appointees when in their official capacities. He has effectively said it is okay to politicize the executive branch.”

According to the Monday Cause of Action memo, “[i]n an unprecedented situation like the present one, the President takes ‘appropriate action’ by substituting himself into the role of the MSPB – in other words ‘appropriate action’ means that the president must suspend Secretary Sebelius for at least 30 days or remove her from office.”

“By taking neither option, the President has, in effect, sent a message to the public that his Cabinet is superior to the law and that either his ethics pledge was a farce or that Sebelius is exempt from complying with the Executive Order,” the memo continues. “Moreover, Secretary Sebelius, in her letter to the OSC, disagreed with the conclusion that she committed a Hatch Act violation. It would appear that Secretary Sebelius is openly opposed to following the high standards of ethics she took an oath to the President to follow. Alternatively, the President has sanctioned her activity.”

The memo argues that Congress can step in and push for accountability if it determines President Obama “failed to take ‘appropriate action’ to punish Secretary Sebelius” and “Secretary Sebelius fails to acknowledge that she violated the law.” The government watchdog group said Congress could push to impeach Sebelius if such determinations are made.

Cause of Action also said that there may have been an election crime committed by the Democratic National Committee. That’s because, under 18 U.S.C. §595, loans of taxpayer money cannot be used as a loan for expenses related to electing a candidate president of the United States.

“The Democratic National Committee (DNC) (partially) reimbursed HHS for travel and other related costs due to Secretary Sebelius’s political activity,” Cause of Action wrote in the memo. “That payment may be interpreted to constitute a loan from the federal government. As such, Sebelius, who is in an administrative position of the United States, and in connection with activity financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States, or any department or agency thereof, used her official authority for the purpose of affecting the election of a candidate for President, may be subject to liability under 18 U.S.C. §595, a prosecutable offense.”

DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse hasn’t responded to a request for comment in response to the Democratic Party’s potential illegal activity.

Cause of Action also found that Sebelius violated President Obama’s “Ethics Pledge,” which the group says Obama’s political appointees were required to sign “concerning lobbying activities while also seeking consensus from his political appointees that they understood the federal ethics rules.”

“Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed this pledge,” Cause of Action said. “Secretary Sebelius did not receive a waiver from the restrictions agreed to by signing the pledge. And yet on February 25, Secretary Sebelius, using her official position, engaged in direct lobbying when she supported the defeat of North Carolina’s Amendment One. While this statement does not violate the Hatch Act, it would appear to be inconsistent with Secretary Sebelius’s ethical promise to the President.”

At least one member of Congress – Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh – has called on President Obama to treat Sebelius the same as all other Hatch Act violators and terminate her employment immediately.

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