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Trump Teases a Gettysburg Convention Speech. Experts Say It’s an Ethics Breach.

  • August 11, 2020

In private, Mr. Trump has expressed to aides more interest in delivering his address at the White House, in part because of the ease of arranging the speech, set for Aug. 27, in a short time frame.

Mr. Trump was originally scheduled to accept his renomination in Charlotte, N.C., the Republican convention’s host city, but in June he moved his speech to Jacksonville, Fla., to try to avoid safety requirements like social distancing and mask-wearing. In July he pulled the convention out of Jacksonville as coronavirus cases surged in Florida.

The president is not subject to the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. But everyone who works for him is. By delivering a speech with the Gettysburg battlefield as a backdrop, experts said, Mr. Trump would risk putting park rangers and other park employees at risk of a violation.

“Applicable law does provide a variety of technical exemptions, which a clever lawyer might stitch together to claim that this is permissible,” said Norman L. Eisen, who served as the chief ethics czar in the Obama White House. “But those loopholes do not contemplate an event of this highly partisan nature of this scope and scale, and the forced political labor of the hundreds, if not thousands, of federal personnel.”

Mr. Eisen added: “The park rangers will appear as political window dressing at the event. No normal president of either party would even try it, and no normal White House or campaign lawyers would support it.”

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