GOP, White House Showcase Their Control Over Levers Of Power In Unprecedented Infomercial

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 25: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a naturalization ceremony for new cit... CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 25: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a naturalization ceremony for new citizens in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 25, 2020. The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 25, 2020 11:57 p.m.

It’s an election year, and that means using the levers of government power to propel the President of the United States to reelection. 

At least, that was the message Tuesday night, when the Trump administration, Trump campaign and Republican National Committee worked in unison to sing Donald John Trump’s praises. 

The spectacle, which experts denounced in real time as an unprecedented politicization of the federal government, reached a climax when the President and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf held a full naturalization ceremony in the middle of the convention proceedings. 

An announcer — booming but nameless and faceless — identified Wolf by his official title: “Acting Secretary Wolf, I present to you five candidates for naturalization representing five countries.” 

And Wolf, who a congressional watchdog office recently found was not even in the “acting” position legally, went through with it: Five naturalizations, filmed for the Republican Party. 

Using government locations, functions and officials as part of a political campaign “is anti-democratic and in many cases illegal,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, noted on Twitter.

“They keep blowing through law and democratic principles and assume no one will care,” he said.

The naturalization ceremony was hardly all: Earlier Tuesday night, Trump used his pardon power in another RNC stunt, employing the authority for RNC speaker Jon Ponder in a live broadcast from the White House.

Later in the evening, First lady Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden, where at least one White House official, Kellyanne Conway, was present in the audience. (She recently announced that she’d resign her post at the end of the month.) 

Some experts noted that the proceedings appeared to violate the Hatch Act, which forbids executive branch officials from politicizing their roles. But the appearances raised a wide range of questions and the possibility of a much grander violation of the traditional separation of government and politics: Who arranged the naturalization ceremony, and how couldn’t they have done it on the government’s dime? Was Pompeo speaking from Jerusalem as the result of State Department planning? (House investigators want to know.)

Pompeo, unlike Wolf, appeared to make light of the blurred lines: Instead of identifying himself as the secretary of state, he teased at the beginning of his speech that “I have a big job … as Susan’s husband and Nick’s dad.” 

Larry Kudlow, the President’s top economic advisor, instead introduced himself by saying viewers may “know me from TV and radio” and listing his past job titles, but not his current one. Conway, who’s still a senior White House counselor, was identified in an RNC video only as the “former campaign manager for Trump 2016.” Trump’s top domestic policy advisor, acting director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council Brooke Rollins, was identified only by her name. 

And yet, for all the wink-and-nod avoidance, the RNC’s second night included multiple scenes from the White House, complete with bugle calls, sweeping scenic shots, and even two men who appeared to be uniformed Marines. 

As if he wanted to rub it in, Wolf, addressing the President at the naturalization ceremony, commended him for his “dedication to the rule of law, and for restoring integrity to our immigration system.”

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