Ethics experts say that Donald Trump's long-awaited "Fake News Awards" (whatever that may entail) might violate White House rules and, depending on what is actually said on Wednesday, the First Amendment, reports POLITICO.
There is no clear-cut indication of what said awards entail. The White House has not released guidelines on their structure, or said much about whether they're truly happening. However, ethics experts have had plenty to say about them on social media.
WARNING to White House staff: the president may be exempt from the rules at 5 CFR § 2635.701 et seq. on misuse of position BUT YOU ARE NOT. If you help @potus with the below, you risk violating §§ 702, 704 & 705 forbidding use of gov time & $$$ to harm some media & aid others. https://t.co/gHxzJcCEAW— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) January 7, 2018
Hey @PressSec & @RajShah45, Norm is right. If you or *ANY* WH staffers work on this or post it on the WH website, it will be a violation of the Standards of Conduct. Beware of laws on using federal appropriations too, if there are any visuals, certificates, handouts, or trophies. https://t.co/3tlyrkNc9H— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 7, 2018
Both Walter Scahub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, and Norman Eisen, former special counsel to President Barack Obama, tweeted about the awards, attempting to remind Trump and his administration that the staging of such awards would violate the Standards of Ethical Conduct of the executive branch. The standards say that no employee of the executive branch may use their office to endorse "any product, service or enterprise."
While the president is not technically held to those standards, all other White Houe staffers are.
White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino tweeted out that he has nothing to do with the awards. In his tweet, Scavino added that the awards were "from a campaign." It's unclear what that means at this time.
Dear @jason_kint,— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) December 29, 2017
I actually just learned about it from your tweet, and have nothing to do with it — it’s from a campaign...
So carry on with your HATE and FAKE NEWS, as you work at “advancing the future of trusted content and media strategy” over at @DCNorg. LOL😂 https://t.co/xKyNsnCslr
However, not all ethics experts are so quick to agree that the awards might violate executive branch standards.
“Put me down as skeptical,” said Columbia Law Professor Richard Briffault to POLITICO. “It’s got to be unrelated to the office. Criticizing the president’s critics strikes me as related to the office."
Briffault pointed out that he does not see a large difference in criticizing the media on social media in the awards, and criticizing the media in an interview, or a press briefing. However, he did concede that elevating such criticism to the level of an award, and giving it a sort of structure, does make it "harder and harder to say it’s just the president bloviating and it feels more and more like official government activity.”
However, whether the awards violate the standards or not, it might not wind up meaning that much. The Office of Government Ethics put forth the standards and regulations that Trump may violate with his awards, but the ultimate responsibility of enforcement lies with the White House.
The Trump administration does not have a history of taking ethics violations seriously. When Kellyanne Conway broke ethics rules by pushing Ivanka Trump's clothing and jewelry line in an interview with "Fox & Friends," Trump failed to seriously discipline her, outraging ethics experts.
"We’ve already seen that this White House, really, unlike its predecessors, does not impose significant discipline on those who violate the ethics rules in ways that the president approves of,” said Washington University School of Law ethics expert Kathleen Clark said to POLITICO.
Depending on what Trump says during the awards, he may run into issues concerning the First Amendment.
“He has First Amendment rights himself, but he can’t use those to threaten newspapers with official action if they don’t do what he wants,” said Richard Painter, a George W. Bush administration ethics lawyer, to POLITICO.