"A close call": Office of Special Counsel cleared Fauci of violating Hatch Act just days before 2020 election

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

A complaint was lodged against Dr. Fauci in June by Protect the Public’s Trust, a government transparency non-profit group. The complaint was lodged over an interview with Fauci published in the Washington Post on October 31, 2020, just days before the 2020 presidential election. During the interview, Fauci described Biden’s approach to the pandemic as one that took it more seriously than Trump. Protect the Public’s Trust claimed that Fauci violated the Hatch Act with his remarks.

One fact that is clear as time goes on with the pandemic is that Dr. Fauci was no fan of Trump and is a Washington insider who is quite comfortable with Democrats. That’s fine, everyone has political preferences in Washington. But, when Fauci was given the lead among scientists on the White House coronavirus task force, he had an obligation to remain professional and deal with science, not delivering political hot takes, especially so close to an important election.

In its complaint, the group said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases criticized Trump and praised then presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Asked about the difference between their approaches, Fauci said Biden’s campaign ‘is taking it seriously from a public health perspective.’ Trump is ‘looking at it from a different perspective.’

And he contradicted Trump’s optimistic assessment the country was ’rounding the turn.’

‘We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,’ he said.

‘All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors,’ he said.

‘You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.’

Trump, as you remember, notably preferred to try to speak with a more optimistic tone when he spoke about progress being made in battling the pandemic. He likely did that to try to reassure Americans that everyone was doing all they could and that it was a top priority. He was concerned about the collapse of the economy and the high unemployment rate due to business closings. Fauci claimed that Biden took the pandemic more seriously, which is odd, given that by then Trump had successfully used Operation Warp Speed to develop several COVID-19 vaccines and bring them to market for distribution. Fauci thought that Trump was focusing too much on the vaccination and treatment aspect of the virus.

The piece in WaPo was happy to run with the conflict expressed by Fauci. It borders on an in-kind donation to the Biden campaign. The piece pointed to Trump’s campaign rallies and the fact that he didn’t mask-up as Biden and Kamala did at the time. From the WaPo interview:

By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public, and have held socially distanced events. When two people around Harris tested positive for the coronavirus in October, she canceled travel for several days. Asked about the difference between their approaches, Fauci said Biden’s campaign “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective.” Trump, Fauci said, is “looking at it from a different perspective.” He said that perspective was “the economy and reopening the country.”

You get the picture. The OSC’s Deputy Chief of the Hatch Act Unit, Erica Hamrick, noted that the author of the WaPo piece ‘may have written it from a particular perspective and tried to use Dr. Fauci’s words to make a political point’ but it didn’t create a technical violation.

“OSC generally advises employees that it is best not to discuss candidates for partisan political office when speaking in their official capacity,” Deputy Chief of the Hatch Act Unit Erica Hamrick wrote. But, she added, public testimony “must still show that the employee engaged in political activity to establish a Hatch Act violation.”

“Here, while a close call, Dr. Fauci’s comments, without more, do not appear to be directed at the electoral success or failure of either candidate,” Hamrick ruled. “The timing of the interview coincided with the upcoming winter season and Dr. Fauci’s assessment of the virus’s impact leading into that season.”

Protect the Public’s Trust is made up of a group of retired and former public servants. They are committed to ensuring that there is “one set of rules that our leaders must live by no matter what party affiliation or ideological bent.” The group’s director issued a statement on the OSC’s ruling.

Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said: ‘The highest-paid employee in the federal government, and one of the most influential public voices, should be held to the highest standards of conduct.

‘Unfortunately, as the Office of Special Counsel noted, Dr. Fauci disregarded its best practices around the Hatch Act and enabled his official position to be used ‘to make a political point’ even if his motives were unclear.

‘We respect OSC’s determination that this was a “close call” but believe the American public deserves more from officials such as Dr. Fauci.’

Fauci is the highest paid employee in the federal government. After decades of taxpayer funded employment, he will retire with a retirement package that exceeds $350,000. That is the largest retirement package in American government history, according to Forbes. He should be held to a higher standard as a scientist employed by the government, especially since he has demanded that some very draconian measures be taken to mitigate the pandemic, some of which are now proving to be less than great decisions. Fauci has lost the respect of many Americans due to flip flops in his opinions when it is politically convenient for him. He relishes the “St. Anthony” treatment given to him by the press and Democrats.

Yesterday during a Senate hearing, Fauci’s arrogance and bad behavior toward Republican senators was on full display. Granted, he has an ongoing battle with Senator Rand Paul who calls him out on decisions that have gone wrong but he also showed poor behavior toward Senator Marshall when Marshall told Fauci that he had lost the trust of many Americans. Fauci was caught on a hot mic calling him “a moron” when Marshall’s time was up. Fauci thinks he is the smartest person in the room. Marshall is a medical doctor, just like Rand Paul. Fauci attacked the two medical doctors on the panel, both Republicans, for disagreeing with him.

Fauci’s expiration date has arrived. He hasn’t had any more success with the coronavirus pandemic than he had with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. He keeps failing up, though, and will be rewarded with a handsome retirement package for holding on to his job in the public health sector for fifty years. He’s now 81 years old. It’s time to go enjoy that retirement.