Ahead of this fall's midterm elections, the White House will soon allow some senior staff to use specially-provided cell phones to communicate with the Republican National Committee, according to White House officials.
The cell phones, provided by the RNC, will allow the staffers to conduct political activities during working hours, when their personal devices are forbidden from being used in parts of the White House. This comes after the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly earlier this year banned personal cell phones in the West Wing in a move that was purportedly aimed at bolstering cyber security protocols and simultaneously cracking down on leaks to the media.
At the time, Kelly issued a memo to staff that cited the need to protect classified information. But a senior White House official said it was really more about preventing those embarrassing and politically damaging leaks that have plagued Trump's first year in office.
The White House developed the new program in coordination with the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces the Hatch Act — a law that forbids federal employees, with the exception of the president and vice president, from engaging in political activity.
“As part of OSC’s regular Hatch Act advisory role, the White House consulted with us on a concept for the issuance of RNC phones to some White House staff. OSC is ready to assist with further Hatch Act guidance as the White House begins to implement its program,” OSC spokesperson Jill Gerber said in a statement.
So how is it that White House staff will be allowed to engage in political activities while carrying out their day-to-day jobs in the West Wing?
Gerber explains that there is an exception for White House aides to engage in some political activities while on duty at their day jobs.
“Even those activities are qualified: The activity must not be paid for with U.S. Treasury funds,” Gerber said. “The political activity that they can engage in must be incidental to their regular duties.”