WASHINGTON (AP) — Days before Hillary Clinton is scheduled to accept the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, a government watchdog says the nation's housing secretary violated a law prohibiting government officials from using their office for partisan politics when he promoted her candidacy during a media interview.
Julian Castro "impermissibly mixed his personal views with official government agency business" in violation of the Hatch Act during an interview with Yahoo Global News anchor Katie Couric at the Department of Housing and Urban Development's broadcast studio earlier this year, Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of the Special Counsel, said in a report. The report was sent to President Barack Obama on Monday.
Castro has endorsed Clinton and is a surrogate speaker for her campaign, which is permitted as long as he presents his views as personal and doesn't use the trappings of his office. Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, is also among a group of Democrats being considered as Clinton's running mate. Clinton is expected to name her choice for vice president before the party's convention begins next week in Philadelphia.
In the Yahoo interview, Castro discussed HUD programs for about 7 minutes before Couric asked him about his endorsement.
"Now taking off my HUD hat for a second and just speaking individually, it is very clear that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced, thoughtful and prepared candidate for president we have this year," Castro told Couric, according to the report. He went on to offer further praise of Clinton. Asked about Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Castro said Trump wasn't prepared for the office of president and didn't understand what leadership or being president is all about.
Lerner said Castro's attempt to separate his official position from his political views during the interview didn't go far enough. The HUD seal behind him, Castro was introduced as the HUD secretary by Couric, who repeatedly referred to him as secretary.
"That disclaimer could not negate the fact that he was appearing in his official capacity for the rest of the interview, as the official HUD seal remained behind him and his political comments were bracketed by statements concerning official HUD policies and programs," the report said.
The report also notes that following his appointment in July 2014, Castro received four briefings on the Hatch Act. Emails between Yahoo News and HUD's public affairs office on arrangements for the interview made it clear that Couric would ask about the presidential campaign.
Castro acknowledged the mistake in a letter to Lerner released Monday, saying that at the time he believed his disclaimer that he was speaking "individually" was "what was required by the Hatch Act."
"However, your analysis provides that it was not sufficient," Castro wrote. "When an error is made — even an inadvertent one — the error should be acknowledged. Although it was not my intent, I made one here."
Associated Press writer Kenneth Thomas contributed to this report.
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