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Ethics Watchdog Claims Trump Video Blasting de Blasio Violated the Law, But There’s One Problem

Yesterday, President Trump posted a video from Air Force One featuring himself trashing Bill de Blasio and poking fun at the mayor's entry into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

According to Virginia Canter, an ethics lawyer from the liberal watchdog group Citizens Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), this video may have violated the law because of the presidential seal that is visible over Trump’s left shoulder.

“It’s not appropriate to use the seal in this way,” said Canter, a former assistant White House counsel. “It sends the message that this is the official view of the U.S. government .... not a political (attack).”

Canter says the violation was especially egregious because Trump sought to mimic his White House environment in the video.

“It has the same import as him sitting behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office,” she said, calling the violation “offensive.”

Misusing the seal is a misdemeanor that carries a potential penalty of six months behind bars, Canter said.

So, according to Canter, Trump should spend six months in jail because of the seal in the video.

I’d like to ask Canter if she's offended by this photo:

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the CFE Federal Credit Union Arena in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Or this photo:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Or how about this photo?:

President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walk down the steps of Air Force One upon their arrival in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016, for a campaign event. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

If Canter wants to argue that such misuses of the presidential seal are misdemeanors, then what did she and the folks at CREW think about every time during the 2016 campaign that Obama (a) arrived with Hillary for a campaign event on Air Force One, (b) spoke from the presidential lectern during a campaign event or (c) let Hillary speak from the presidential lectern during a campaign event. A search on the CREW website finds no pages, posts, or press releases accusing Obama of misusing the presidential seal, and suggesting possible jail time for it. CREW has criticized Trump in the past for what they deemed improper displays of the seal. In March 2018, they even filed a complaint with the Department of Justice. There were no references to complaints made by CREW about improper uses of the presidential seal during the Obama presidency found on their website. Yet CREW fancies itself a nonpartisan watchdog.

According to the article, "Ethics experts have previously slammed Trump for intentionally using Air Force One as a backdrop during campaign speeches. While not illegal, they called that practice shady because it conveys the backing of the government for a particular candidate." If it does, why haven't other presidents been held accountable for misusing the seal? Where were these "experts" when Obama was letting Hillary speak from the presidential lectern and letting her use Air Force One to fly to campaign events with him? Did that not convey "the backing of the government for a particular candidate"? Holding political leaders by different standards makes it hard to hold take such accusations of ethical and legal violations seriously.

Does anyone think CREW is going to say Obama should be put in jail for six months for every time he misused the seal? It would be nice to see Obama held accountable for something for once, but we're not gonna throw presidents or their aides in jail for misusing the president seal. These ethics "experts" are just looking for anything they can to bash Trump for and make it sound more sinister than it really is. It's also worth noting here that Virginia Canter served as White House Associate Counsel under Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Presidents have a lot of leeway for using the presidential seal, even at political events. They can even use Air Force One for such events, but their campaigns must reimburse the government for those instances. It would be silly to suggest that the video is worthy of jail time when past presidents from both parties have repeatedly used the presidential seal during political events. If  CREW wants to make this an issue then I guess we better start counting how many times Obama misused the seal, too. And all past presidents for that matter.

_____

Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy, will be published in July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis