White House disputes claims that Trump aide's tweet violated federal ethics law

PHOTO: This March 28, 2017, file photo shows Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., followed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, leaving a closed-door strategy session with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis.J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP Photo
This March 28, 2017, file photo shows Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., followed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, leaving a closed-door strategy session with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis. A top aide to President Donald Trump is urging the primary defeat of a conservative House member from Michigan. A tweet Saturday, April 1, 2017, by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr., comes two days after Trump threatened conservative lawmakers who thwarted a House vote on health care legislation.

The White House is disputing allegations by former government lawyers that a tweet by a top Trump aide violated a federal law against government employees engaging in political activity.

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The tweet by social media director Dan Scavino targeted Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican member of the House Freedom Caucus and a vocal critic of President Trump. Scavino openly called for Amash's defeat in a primary.

Amash responded, accusing the Trump administration of employing tactics used by the "Republican establishment."

"Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers," Amash tweeted.

The exchange led to a response from former Obama White House lawyer Daniel Jacobson, who said Scavino's tweet violated the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law designed to prevent government officials from using their official positions to influence voters.

A White House official said because Scavino used a "personal" Twitter account and not his government account he didn't violate the law.

"Dan Scavino's tweet does not violate the Hatch Act as it clearly comes from his personal account and not his official White House account," the official said. "He created an official account upon entering the White House to ensure compliance with the Hatch Act and he has taken the necessary steps to ensure there is a clear distinction between both Twitter accounts."

But other former government lawyers dispute that Scavino's account can be considered his "personal" account.

Richard Painter, a former ethics czar in the George W. Bush White House who joined a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for allegedly violating the emoluments clause, said Scavino's account "cannot be loaded up with official stuff and then used for partisan politics."

However, after his tweet Scavino changed the cover photo of his Twitter account, which included a picture of President Trump speaking at a podium with the presidential seal. By Sunday afternoon, it had been replaced with a new picture of the president but without the presidential seal.

The White House official did not answer why Scavino chose to change his profile picture. The Office of Special Counsel, tasked with enforcing Hatch Act violations, did not respond to ABC's request for comment.