Lynne Patton — a former event planner for the Trump family who was then appointed to a top role at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — was slapped with a $1,000 fine and a 48-month ban from federal employment for her involvement in producing a video that aired at last summer’s Republican National Convention.
Some of the people who were filmed in the video — New York public housing tenants who spoke about their experience with local and federal authorities — later told the New York Times that they were not made aware that they were participating in a video for the RNC. They said that the interviews they did on camera — interviews that were led by Patton herself — were edited to suggest that were supporters of President Trump, even though several of them were not, according to the Times.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel — an obscure agency that deals with some federal employment issues (and is separate from special counsels like Robert Mueller, who are appointed to conduct independent Justice Department investigations) — concluded that Patton violated the Hatch Act by using her perch at HUD to produce the video.
The 1939 law bars federal officials from boosting political campaigns while they’re acting in their official capacity. The Patton-produced video was one of several examples during the RNC of Trump administration officials leveraging their official duties to produce content for the convention. The White House denied at the time that those gambits violated the Hatch Act.
Patton, who led HUD’s New York regional office, was warned once before by OSC about behavior that run afoul of the Hatch Act — in that case, tweets from her government account that promoted political content. When another tweet defending HUD Secretary Ben Carson attracted scrutiny, Patton said she “honestly” did not “care” about the Hatch Act. (That particularly tweet was later cleared by OSC.)
In the video incident, OSC concluded that Patton used the relationships she developed during a HUD stint living in New York public housing to “recruit” participants for the RNC video. She had gotten permission from HUD to spend a month living in New York public housing buildings in order to “observe living conditions” in those facilities, according to the OSC’s Tuesday press release announcing the disciplinary action.
“During her approximately one-month stay, Patton met residents and later leveraged one of these relationships to recruit participants to film a video that would air at the RNC,” the OSC press release said. “Patton wanted NYCHA residents to appear in the video to explain how their standard of living had improved under the Trump administration.”
Though at the time Patton claimed that the video had been vetted and cleared of Hatch Act violations by the White House, she has admitted as part of the settlement with OSC announced Tuesday that her conduct violated the law, according to the press release.