At least one lawmaker has formally called for an ethics investigation into Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ tweet telling the story of how she got kicked out of a Virginia restaurant.
The White House press secretary reported that she had been turned away from a restaurant on Friday because she works for President Donald Trump. On Sunday, a Democratic congresswoman demanded an ethics investigation into Sanders’ tweet about the incident — because it came from her official Twitter account.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called it “disgusting” that Sanders would share her experience, and suggested her story was a malicious attack against an innocent private business.
Sanders “used her government account for taking on this private restaurant, a private business,” Lee said. “So I personally think she should be referred to the office of government ethics.”
Lee went on, saying that she considers Sanders’ tweet “unethical.”
“Yeah, if you use a government account to attack a private business on personal time, that’s not right,” she concluded.
Was the press secretary attacking a private business, however? Let’s see what Sarah Huckabee Sanders actually said.
“Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for [President Trump] and I politely left,” Sanders tweeted. “Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.”
Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
Stephanie Wilkinson, the restaurant’s owner, told The Washington Post she would “absolutely” do the same thing again. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation….I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.'”
“We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one,” Wilkinson added.
Even though Sanders did not explicitly attack the restaurant, Congresswoman Lee was not the first to suggest the press secretary had violated ethics rules in reporting the incident.
“Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a),” argued Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics. “It’s the same as if an ATF agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out.”
Shaub argued that Sanders’ tweet constituted a use of her “official govt account to condemn a private business for personal reasons.” The message “seeks to coerce business by using her office to get public to pressure it. Violates endorsements ban too, which has an obvious corollary for discouraging patronage.”
In other words, since Sanders “attacked” the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., using her official account, she effectively abused the authority of her office in an effort to boycott the restaurant and redirect business elsewhere.
Neither Lee nor Shaub can prove that Sanders attacked the restaurant, however. All Sanders did was report what happened and argue, “Her actions say far more about her than about me.”
Now, Yelp users have attacked the restaurant following this incident — which the restaurant’s owner confirmed — and many angry callers have threatened another Red Hen restaurant — in Swedesboro, N.J.!
Please, if you’re going to make an angry call to a restaurant over its political stance (generally a bad idea), make sure you get the right one.
While Sanders’ report did result in these attacks, her actual tweet did nothing more than report her experience, and it is impossible to prove her motivations for posting the tweet. It seems she intended to defend herself as a polite and respectful person more than to attack the restaurant, although I’m sure Wilkinson would disagree.
In any case, the breach of ethics would be extremely hard to prove, and for a Democrat congresswoman to demand an investigation is nothing more than adding injury to insult.
That said, I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this.