Coordination Between White House and Fox May Violate Anti-Lobbying, Propaganda Laws
Reporting Shows White House Sought Help From President Trump’s Favorite News Source
Former Trump Official Hope Hicks Now Serves as “Chief Communications Officer” for the Network
Washington DC— Today, Democracy Forward demanded an investigation into whether White House officials unlawfully engaged in lobbying and government-sponsored propaganda by coordinating with Fox executives to secure cover from the network on the recently-enacted “First Step Act.” Today’s demand letter follows a report that the cable news network’s “unusual statement formally backing the bill” was a coordinated effort to protect Republicans “concerned about looking soft on crime.”
Federal law prohibits officials from secretly encouraging private citizens to lobby Congress. White House officials also may not create “covert propaganda,” or communications by private individuals that fail to disclose the government’s role as the source of information. The Fox statement, issued 12 days before the bill’s passage, was released without acknowledgment that the statement 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.
“By secretly coordinating a statement with the Fox Network meant to influence members of Congress, the Trump White House is effectively treating Fox as its mouthpiece,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “That kind of covert coordination is not only warping our understanding of a free press, it may be breaking the law.”
The Trump Administration’s special relationship with the Fox Network is unusual and alarming. 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; and
- 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, Democracy Forward 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.
The letter to the Office of the White House Counsel was sent January 22, 2019.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.