Probe into politics in Bush's White House names Scott Jennings, sparks debate in KY

01/25/2011 06:44 PM

An investigation report into the intersection of politics and governing in the White House has, itself, become a political firecracker in Kentucky.

Cover page of the 104-page report into potential violations of the 1939 Hatch Act in the Bush White House.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel released a report Monday that concluded President George W. Bush’s Office of Political Affairs – which included Kentuckian J. Scott Jennings – violated federal law in the way it dealt with campaign-related functions.

Jennings — who is running Republican David Williams’ campaign for governor – served as deputy director of the White House Office of Political Affairs and special assistant to the president from 2005 to 2007.

The 104-page report said Jennings and other officials in the Political Affairs office violated the 1939 Hatch Act that bars federal officials from using federal resources for campaigning.

The Kentucky Democratic Party pounced on it, issuing a statement describing to Jennings as a key player in a “scheme to direct public funds to help Republicans gain an upper-hand in the 2006 mid-term elections.”

That sparked dueling statements between the Democratic Party and Jennings that included some harsh digs. (See below)

Jennings declined to talk on the record about the report but issued a statement calling the Office of Special Counsel’s report contradictory.

“I am extremely disappointed by the findings of the report,” Jennings’ statements said. “I executed my job duties according to the instructions given and in accordance with the rules prescribed by the White House Counsel’s office, which offered plain, written advice that my position exempted me from the requirements of the Hatch Act.”

High-level employees in the White House are “exempt from the restrictions concerning active participation in political management,” as the report acknowledged on its fifth page. But the Hatch Act forbids all federal employees from spending government resources on campaigning.

The report came out Monday – just days after President Barack Obama announced he would shut down the White House Office of Political Affairs. The says document says its goal was to provide recommendations for the future of the White House Office of Political Affairs.

And while it says Jennings and others who worked in the office under Bush violated the Hatch Act, no criminal wrongdoing was found, the Associated Press quoted a spokesman from the Special Counsel’s office as saying.

It was a complain involving a presentation Jennings made in 2007 that started the investigation.

Jennings had given a PowerPoint presentation to officials in the U.S. General Services Administration on Jan. 26, 2007, that recapped the 2006 elections and previewed vulnerable Republican incumbents in the 2008 cycle, according to the report.

Other mentions of Jennings in the report include:

  • After combing through 100,000 documents and interviewing more than 80 people, investigators determined that Jennings and others from the office made at 21 such presentations at federal agencies. The report said such briefings “constituted political activity.”

  • While members of the White House Office of Political Affairs don’t supervise political appointees, Jennings told investigators that he – as deputy director of that office – was often the closest that most appointees would come to meeting the president. Jennings described the briefings to investigators as “morale boosting tools” for political appointees serving in the administration, the report said. They were “designed to let the appointees know that the White House appreciated … (and) cared very much about their service,” the report quoted Jennings as saying.

  • Political appointees interviewed in the investigation said Jennings, former Political Director Ken Mehlman and others would explain the “appropriate way” for them to get involved in campaigns but usually in response to audience questions.

  • The report also cited regular contact between the Office of Political Affairs and the Republican National Committee as another example of improper interplay between government and political activities. For instance, the RNC and White House Office of Political Affairs officials would meet regularly and collaborate on travel. “Mr. Jennings also traveled with senior White House officials to fundraisers sponsored by the RNC,” the report said. “On at least one of those occasions, the White House again advanced the travel costs and subsequently received reimbursement from the RNC.”

The Kentucky Democratic Party’s chairman, Daniel Logsdon, compared the findings of the report to the investigation into improper hiring in former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration.

But that probe focused on improper hiring of rank-and-file state workers based on political considerations while this review focused on the structure and function of a political arm of the president.

Jennings responded to the Kentucky Democratic Party with a pointed statement saying he was eager to debate Logsdon, whom he described as a “feckless, spineless, and otherwise useless chairman.” Jennings initially referred to Logsdon as “Hogsdon” but told cn|2 Politics, “That was a mistake. I did not intend to do that” and issued a corrected statement.

Matt Erwin, spokesman for the Democratic Party, said “there will be a time and a place to debate the upcoming governor’s race, and we feel we have someone strong on our side.”

- Ryan Alessi


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