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Trump Bans Impeachment Talk

Federal workers have been told they can't say the words impeachment, resist, or resistance while on the job

Brian Young's picture
Jan 28, 2020

The impeachment hearing is top news. Cable news is covering it live and it seems to have 24-hour coverage. You can’t go on Facebook or Twitter without seeing information about it or seeing it trend and every day it seems like more leaks out.

While everyone is talking about it, Federal workers have been banned from speaking about it. In a directive from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), in late 2018, told employees that they were restricted from offering an opinion about on “impeachment” or policy matters that use the word “resist” or “resistance.” After pushback, the OSC clarified that employees could discuss whether Trump should be impeached but not advocate for or against it.   

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) believes that the clarification is a meaningless distinction since you can’t discuss impeaching Trump without also then advocating for it.

While federal employees are barred under the Hatch Act from taking part in political activity, this directive would go one step further by banning them from speaking about a legislative issue while on their lunch break or smoke break.

“The Trump impeachment is THE major news story dominating the headlines. For federal employees, he is top management, and it is absurd to think impeachment of the boss will not be discussed at lunch and at the water cooler,” AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley said. “Worse yet, it is a legislative act not related to electoral activity as defined under the Hatch Act. We view it as an unconstitutional restraint of free speech.”

This directive comes as some high profile government employees have engaged in partisan attacks in defending Trump while seemingly on the job in roles that are supposed to be non-political.

“The chilling impact of these rules has only gotten worse as the question of whether the president should be impeached moved from a speculative debate to reality. Government employees have a right to speak about this historic matter,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight, a non-partisan government watchdog representing AFGE in this case. “We are particularly concerned that OSC has taken no action against high-profile defenders of the president -- such as counselor Kellyanne Conway -- who, from their government perches, have weighed in against impeachment while ordinary civil servants who might hold different views must refrain from speaking out or risk losing their jobs.”

In June the US Office of Special Counsel recommended to Trump that Conway be fired for being a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act.

AFGE has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop OSC’s directive from being enforced during the impeachment hearing. The motion is part of a larger case that the union filed in August of 2019 to overturn the OSC directive. The preliminary injunction that the union is asking for in this case would immediately suspend the OSC guidance.

The preliminary injunction motion is accompanied by declarations of two AFGE Local 2578 members who are federal employees, whose speech has been chilled by the OSC policy. One is an employee of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland who wishes to express views about whether President Trump should be impeached, but has refrained from doing so due to the guidance. The other member is a NARA employee in Missouri who wishes to use the terms “resist” or “resistance” while at work, but also has refrained from using those words.

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