Sarah Huckabee Sanders May Have Broken the Law With Comments on ESPN
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on Wednesday that a commentator on ESPN who made comments critical of President Donald Trump committed an action that could get her fired.
Jemele Hill, a host on the ESPN network, launched a series of tweets on Monday that suggested that "[Trump's] rise is a direct result of white supremacy," and that he was "unqualified and unfit to be president."
As a result, many conservatives became outraged, and aired their frustrations with the network. Many called for her to be fired. Hill did address the "elephant in the room" later in the week, and apologized for her tweets.
"My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs," she wrote. "My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light."
ESPN, for its own part, accepted Hill's apology in a public statement:
Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN. She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.
But Press Secretary Huckabee Sanders apparently thought more should be done.
"That is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and is a fireable offense by ESPN," Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday.
It's one thing for ESPN to decide whether to keep or fire its own employees for their actions. As a business, it is their responsibility to employ only those who represent them the way they want or accept in public settings. Hill's statement could have led to her termination, had ESPN decided so.
But for a spokesperson from the White House to suggest as much is entirely different, and according to some media personalities, seems without precedent.
Huckabee Sanders is correct in stating that ESPN could choose to fire Hill should they deem it proper. But words from the White House have a certain strength to them: foreign powers, for example, read into the nuanced comments of the president to determine where he stands on several policy matters. A comment issued from the White House could affect the stock market in either a positive or negative way. And saying someone could get fired for criticizing the president may cause a company to reconsider whether keeping them employed was the right move to make.
She may have also committed a crime. According to a law passed in 2007, anyone in the executive branch who attempts "to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity...may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States."
It's unclear whether Huckabee Sanders was trying to influence ESPN or not. But one might be forgiven for thinking her comments could be perceived as much. This I know for certain: Huckabee Sanders's words themselves could be a fireable offense.