US Attorney Planned Partisan Party For Democratic Candidate

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A former U.S. attorney violated Department of Justice (DOJ) policy, executive branch ethical standards, and possibly the Hatch Act when he hosted political fundraisers for Democrats at his home, a new DOJ Office of Inspector General (IG) report found.

James Santelle — as the top law enforcement official for the Eastern District of Wisconsin — compromised the integrity of his office when he invited potential donors to his home on behalf of then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and then-Democratic candidate for Attorney General Jon Richards in 2013 and 2014, according to the IG.

“Santelle’s actions exhibit a disregard for safeguarding the department’s role as a non-partisan institution,” the IG said. “Santelle’s deliberate indifference to the effect his actions could have on the U.S. Attorney’s Office was particularly concerning, given that he was a 30-year career employee and the recipient of clear and repeated guidance from the department on such matters.”

Santelle retired from the DOJ in July, 2015, during the IG’s probe of his political activity and his alleged misuse of a government credit card. No charges have been filed against him and he has not received other employment-related penalties.

Burke was in a tight race against Republican Gov. Scott Walker when Santelle hosted her fundraiser in November, 2013. (RELATED: Court Orders End To ‘John Doe’ Investigation Into Scott Walker)

The IG said Santelle possibly violated the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act is the primary federal law prohibiting government employees from political activity. The IG referred that determination to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the “sole” decider of Hatch Act violations.

Santelle clearly did violate the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch governing partisan political fundraisers and endorsements. He also demonstrated a “lack of candor” to the IG when he claimed the Richards event was not intended to be a fundraiser, the IG said.

The IG found Santelle violated DOJ policies prohibiting the following:

  • Using one’s official authority to affect the outcome of an election
  • Soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions
  • Organizing or actively participating in an event or fundraiser for a candidate for partisan office or allowing one’s name to be used in connection with the event
  • Participating in a political event without prior approval from designated DOJ personnel

Santelle consulted no ethics advisers at DOJ about the events, which the IG found “particularly troubling. Santelle could have easily avoided all of these violations by reading the department’s policy or seeking ethics advice. Either way Santelle would have learned that since the Burke event was a partisan campaign event, he was prohibited from participating actively in the event.”

Santelle cancelled the April, 2014, Richards event at the instruction of someone within the DOJ who learned about the event from one of Santelle’s subordinates Santelle had invited to attend. But Santelle had already violated department policy by planning the event, the IG found.

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