The White House reportedly coordinated with the Fox Network on a statement supporting the First Step Act in an effort to protect Republican Members of Congress concerned about looking soft on crime. The Fox statement—issued 12 days before the bill’s passage—was released without acknowledgment that it came at the urging of Trump White House officials, and without any indication of any role that these officials may have played in creating the statement.

Federal law prohibits officials from secretly encouraging members of the public to lobby Congress. White House officials also may not create “covert propaganda,” or communications that fail to disclose the government’s role in generating the content. Doing so is not only a breach of the public trust, but is a violation of federal law. It would also fit a pattern of the Trump Administration’s unusual and alarming relationship with the Fox Network. In addition to former Trump official Hope Hicks now serving as Fox’s Chief Communications Officer, the President has long relied on Fox News personalities to fill essential government roles including:

  • White House Communications Director and former Fox News Co-President Bill Shine. Four senators have expressed concern that Shine may be breaking conflict of interest laws by continuing to receive $7 million in payouts from the Fox Network
  • U.S. State Department Spokeswoman and former Fox & Friends host Heather Nauert. Nauert is currently President Trump’s nominee for UN Ambassador
  • White House Director of Strategic Communications and former Fox News correspondent Mercedes Schlapp.

This is not the first time the Trump Administration may have run afoul of anti-propaganda laws. On December 13, 2018, we and Restore Public Trust sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General, requesting an immediate investigation of whether EPA illegally used agency resources for covert propaganda.

We’ve demanded the White House Counsel investigate this potentially illegal lobbying and propaganda effort. Read our full demand letter below.

Nitin Shah

Senior Counsel

Holding the Executive Branch accountable through litigation.

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Allison Hunn

Legal Analyst

Focusing on education, the environment, energy, agriculture, housing, and transportation.

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