The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) exonerated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci earlier this month in a “close call” case of a Hatch Act violation.
In June, the government transparency non-profit Protect the Public’s Trust filed a complaint against Fauci over an October 2020 interview with the Washington Post. Published days before the election, the White House medical adviser branded then-candidate Joe Biden as taking the novel Wuhan coronavirus more seriously.
In the article, headlined “A whole lot of hurt: Fauci warns of COVID-19 surge, offers blunt assessment of Trump’s response,” Fauci told the Post, “you could not possibly be positioned more poorly” to confront the pandemic and emphasized the United States needed an “abrupt change.”
When asked about the differences between the two major presidential candidates on their pandemic plans, Fauci said Biden “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective,” but that incumbent President Donald Trump was “looking at it from a different perspective.”
“Right now, the public health aspect of the task force has diminished greatly,” Fauci told the Post with Trump still in office.
The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, explicitly bars a federal employee from “us[ing] his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” Fauci, the complaint said, “exceeded the mere exchange of opinions and in fact, participated in impermissible political activity.”
“Despite personally categorizing similar statements as ‘political’ just days before,” the group filing the complaint wrote, “Dr. Fauci nevertheless offered his evaluation of the Biden campaign’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic relative to the approach taken by President Trump and connected differences in the nation’s likely health outcomes to the different approaches.”
In a letter dated Jan. 3, the Office of Special Counsel issued its ruling on the group’s complaint.
“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.”
The Washington Post, Hamrick concluded, “may have written it from a particular perspective and tried to use Dr. Fauci’s words to make a political point,” but wrote “OSC cannot impute the author’s intent.”
Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said the group “respect[s] OSC’s determination.”
“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,” Chamberlain said in a press release.
Since the pandemic’s inception, Fauci, the highest-paid employee across the federal government, has leveraged his White House role as a “political animal” to undercut the Trump administration and forge a media-manufactured consensus to prolong lockdowns.